For many members of the LGBTQI community in Pune, the Supreme Court’s decision to read down Section 377 and decriminalise homosexuality means that they will, finally, be considered as an “equal citizen”.
One of them, IT professional Souvik Ghosh, said the ruling was a landmark one. “We had expected it…. now, at some point, we can say we are not criminals and deserve to be treated as equal citizens,” said Ghosh. He celebrated the verdict by connecting and reaching out to his family and friends and explaining how crucial the judgment was.
Vivek Anand, CEO of Humsafar Trust, which works for the rights of the LGBTQI community, said there was a need to take one step at a time. “The judgment is an excellent one, but now we need to have a systematic plan and approach different people and agencies… For instance, can the workplace introduce a policy stating there will no discrimination if their employee has a different sexual orientation,” he said.
Professor R Raj Rao, a writer and former head of the English department at Pune University, welcomed the ruling but admitted to being sceptical. “I thought I would never see such a day in my lifetime and yes, this is a cause for celebration,” said Rao.
But, he said, it would have been greater had the government scrapped Section 377 entirely. “Don’t forget it is an election year and if the BJP does return to power, it may simply dishonour the judgment,” said Rao.
Bindumadhav Khire, a gay rights activist and Marathi playwright who also runs an NGO, Samapathik Trust, said they would celebrate the verdict on September 11, to mark the organisation’s foundation day.
“Till Section 377 was out of the way, we could not really start the movement to fight for our rights. This is just the beginning. Marriage, adoption and anti-discriminatory laws are the major fights in the coming years. But today is a day to celebrate this hard-fought battle,” said Khire.
The activist said since not much support was forthcoming from politicians, who had “their own agendas”, they would have to “rely on courts to fight for our rights,” he added.
Vikram Sinh Pawar, senior programme manager at Connecting, an NGO that runs a distress helpline, hailed the judgment as a ground-breaking one. “I have been pretty much out about my sexuality. Homosexuality has been so frowned upon that it will take a while to change the mindset of the people. We have to come up with ideas to deal with homophobic people. This judgment has opened up the door for same-sex people, who can now approach the courts and petition them for their rights,” he said.
Omkar Joshi, who conducts sensitisation workshops for the police as part of the Samapathik Trust’s outreach activities, said it was a relief that people like him would no longer be referred to as ‘criminals’. “This judgment will have an impact on our lives and change the way people look at us,” he said.
Payal, a member of the transgender community, said while the ruling was a welcome one, there was a need to change people’s mindsets. “I am a transgender and a series of steps have been announced so that I can avail of employment. However, I am still jobless and feel these policies need to be implemented by the state government,” she added.