OVER FOUR months after a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court unanimously decriminalised same-sex consensual relationships, Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud on Saturday said that the real challenge still lay in the societal taboos against the LGBT community, especially in non-urban India.
Speaking at the David Sasoon Library at the 20th year of Kala Ghoda Festival of Arts, Chandrachud said: “Though we as a society are much more liberal and accepting towards the LGBT community in urban areas, a large chunk of the problem lies in the heartland of the country, where belonging to the community is still considered a taboo. The most important facet to make the Constitution a habit is to make each individual feel that they count.”
In the build-up to the judgment last September, Chandrachud has spoken about how he and his wife have friends in the LGBT community. He said: “Even though the judgment was based ultimately on a constitutional principle, I did indeed interact with a lot of people from the LGBT community at various seminars and interactions. As a judge, one leads a really cloistered life and exposure comes a lot from what you read and experience.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Chandrachud said not all laws are created to exercise control over people, and “wherever there is a need, the courts are doing the job of restraining the state”.
He added: “The battle between governance and freedom takes place in societies all across the world… Everything that the state does, you don’t necessarily attribute to a desire to exercise control over the citizens. It is not always so though it may be perceived to be. The state just wants to have a better form of governance, that’s why courts are there to sort of exercise a restraining influence on authorities.”
Speaking about gay marriages, which the September ruling did not take up, he said: “As our law stands, marriage is necessarily a union of man and woman. However, what the judgment has done is that there was no outlawing the instances where two individuals of the same sex want to live together. A lot of societies around the world have recognised unions of same-sex relationships and many have done that through the legislature and many have done it with judiciary pronouncements.”
Chandachud also stressed about the importance of activism in shaping opinions in society. “It proves to be a great way to provide rights to any minority and when there is a lot of public attention to a problem, it often finds its way to court. It is great that we are now having a lot of films that speak about these issues and a lot of casual sexism and homophobism is not passed off as banter anymore,” he said.
Speaking about gender sensitization, Chandrachud said that he was a firm believer that it must start at home and continue in the classroom. “We need to impress upon every young child about how they are going to behave with the opposite gender — be it in school, at home or at the workplace.”
“As a country, we have a long way to go before we achieve gender equality and a lot more needs to be done. For everything that needs to be done, I can tell you that there is a huge disparity — in terms of disparity at the workplace, economic disparities, wage disparities and so on. We have an enormous task ahead. However, looking 20 years back, I feel we have achieved a lot,” he added.