December 11, 2013 marks the most blatant rent in the fabric of rights that the Supreme Court of India has sought to weave since our Independence. It was on this date that the Court overruled an earlier ruling from 2009 (read about it here) whereby Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (an archaic body of laws from 1860 that reflects more Victorian morality than anything else) was held as being unconstitutional. The 2009 judgment served as a beacon of hope to the LGBTQIA community across the country, and for the apex court to take away that freedom of choice and privacy by declaring homosexual acts as being criminal reflects a regressive step that hurts not just us within the community, but anyone who believes in the concept of rights in general (Here’s a summary of the judgment that you may read)
A year down the line, it may be worth recounting a few moments from my personal journey. I came out of the closet last year, about four weeks before the judgment had been issued. The circumstances were turbulent, at best, and there was plenty of doubt, mistrust, misgiving, suspicion, self-hate and the usual negative cornucopia of emotions that accompanies something like this. In that context, I did not open up to the whole world, preferring at first to tell a few people, close friends, family, and the queer community I soon became a part of in my city. Pride came and went, and I was just beginning to find some semblance of acceptance and peace with myself, and solidarity with a group of people who were intelligent, alert, outspoken and brilliant in almost every way possible.
It is against this backdrop that the judgment unexpectedly exploded above our heads. India is not a country that can be classified as open-minded by any stretch of imagination – judgment and moral policing envelops popular societal morality, as is often reflected in the agenda of the popular political groups. However, the laws of the country, on paper if not in reality, have allowed for a degree of progressiveness and accommodation of minorities that is nothing but impressive. Therefore, for the highest Court in the land to make statements along the lines of ” a miniscule fraction of the country’s population constitute lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders and in last more than 150 years less than 200 persons have been prosecuted (as per the reported orders) for committing offence under Section 377 IPC and this cannot be made sound basis for declaring that section ultra vires the provisions of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution” goes against legality, and it sent a shard of glass through the hearts of all of us within the community.
This judgment is, of course, what made my come out of the closet for real. All of a sudden, it was no longer about merely about expressing my own sexuality. The personal, to quote the feminist rallying cry, had truly become political. We protested together, joined hands and screamed ourselves hoarse for our rights. We publicly denounced the institutions that governed us, we signed petitions, we worked on filing a review, and later a curative petition before the court. The verdict has still not been reversed, and the matter lies pending before the Supreme Court as I type. Yet, the process itself opened my eyes to many home truths about the nature of perceptions that people had about the issue.
If there is one thing I have come to realise, it is that many people do not believe this to be an issue in the first place. “Elitist”, “Irrelevant”, “Not worthy of time and attention given greater problems of the third-world, like poverty and population” are but a few examples of the many opinions that I have personally heard voiced. Further, even the progressive members of Indian society have an unreasonable aversion to opening up to the idea that queerness is but a natural phenomenon that does not need to even be justified, far from criminalised. Queerphobia is wide and pervasive, and it is significant to remember that the current ruling party has officially declared its support for the judgment, which implies that it is unlikely that legislative change will occur in this regard.
A year down the line, nothing has changed per se in my life. I am as openly queer as I was a year ago, I continue to participate in marches and protests, and with my friends and compatriots within the community, we try our fullest to keep a vibrant queer culture alive. However, nothing has visibly changed in the legal fabric with respect to this judgment. On paper, we can be arrested if suspected of alleged homosexual activity, and societal perception remains as it is. These are truths that I have faced for so long now, personally, that they cease to affect me at all anymore. There is little we can do but continue to make our presence felt. Step by little step, we hope that g the gross human rights violation that is taking place every single day that this law is allowed to exist comes to the notice of people the world over. And we hope and pray that the legitimacy of our concerns is recognised.
Until then, we march on in anger, and let not the fire die out.
(agree? disagree? Leave a comment!)