A group of IIT students, professors and alumni, who first came together in 2009 and remained ‘undercover’, filed a collective petition in the Supreme Court in May, challenging Section 377 that criminalises sexual acts ‘against the order of nature’. The petition is the collective effort of 20 petitioners and 150 signatories from IITs across India.
“With this, we came out in the open. Until then, we held our meetings in secrecy. Nobody but queer people knew about our group, Pravritti,” said Rakshit Verma, 23, a postgraduate student in metallurgy in IIT-Bombay. Pravritti derives its name from Sanskrit, meaning “different”. The idea of filing a petition came during chats on their WhatsApp group when an alumnus suggested the group should become a part of a larger LGBTQ movement in India. For Verma, a native of Kota, decriminalisation of Section 377 will help him reveal his identity to his family. “Over the last one year, I slowly came out to professors, classmates and friends. But if homosexuality is decriminalised, then I can start a conversation with my parents.” He had first told his girlfriend in college that he was gay. “We both had cried a lot then.” Last year when he joined IIT, he visited a counsellor. “I met several gay people who were in a relationship and I realised I can be myself here,” he said.
Dibyendu Dutta (29), a PhD student and a native of Kolkata, said the petition was necessary since several collectives had come out in the open to have a discussion on LGBTQ rights. “Many students, who pass out from IIT, look for jobs in corporate or multinational companies that have a policy on LGBTQ or are supportive. The judicial support will broaden their job opportunities.”
Dutta has come out to his parents. “My mother was supportive but father remains in denial,” Dutta said. Three years ago, Dutta joined Pravritti, that held monthly meetings to help counsel people coming out in open, raise awareness and create dialogue for social support. Recently, TISS decided to have a separate hostel for transgenders, while IIT-Kharagpur already has a hostel space for the third gender.
Sridhar Rangayan, an IIT alumnus and founding member of Pravritti, said the oldest petitioner from Pravritti is 56-year-old, while the youngest is 19-year-old student from IIT-Delhi.
Rangayan added that several students from smaller IITs have got support through this group. “IIT-Madras has LGBTQ identified people who have now formed unofficial allies. IIT Guwahati’s LGBTQ group also gets support whenever needed.”
Soumyo Mukherjee, dean, student affairs of IIT-Bombay, said: “On IIT campus, students go through both academic and character development. The institute does not discriminate among students on the basis of their caste, colour, religion or sexual orientation. On campus, we have Saathi, a support group for students who identify themselves as LGBTQ that does a lot of hand-holding.”