Many of us are joyously celebrating the reading down of Section 377 by the Supreme Court. While it is an important verdict that merits celebration, it is equally important to remember that we still inhabit a society where individuals are killed for belonging to a minority (religious, sexual, caste-based or otherwise) and imprisoned for the slightest dissent — equal rights are far from being reached.
For many of us, being a Muslim or a Dalit and an LGBTQI person, too, becomes a double bind where we are always made to feel as outsiders. For a large part of my teenage years in Bombay, I distanced myself from Islam as I was made to feel alone, like there was no one like me. As if there was no space for my sexual identity to coexist with my religious beliefs. I became the target of many Islamophobic jokes. But I was extremely fortunate and privileged to have family and friends who supported me through these trying times. Being a practising Muslim, who also happens to be self-accepting of his same-sex attraction, doesn’t make me a conservative radical. Neither does being gay mean I am a degenerate. However, while I have been fortunate to escape such binaries, there are many queer folks who do not have the same safety net to fully embrace their true identity. They are unable to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, to celebrate and be proud of both. So it’s important to remember that winning this legal battle is only the stepping stone to a fight that will take a lot of life and love from all of us, collectively.
In 2013, when I heard about the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Section 377, I grieved for days. I felt helpless and stopped writing the cis-gender Bollywood rom-com that I was working on. Instead, I started writing Sisak, a film that would go on to become India’s first silent queer love story. Five years later, we, the queer folk of India, have been decriminalised. I feel honoured when I receive messages of love from viewers who want to be like me; to hear that I have helped people navigate society and its norms, towards accepting who they are.
However, I am not sure how to celebrate this verdict. I come from a certain class and enjoy a certain social capital that has provided me the comfort of self-expression and individuality. Nor do I think that the war is over. Within moments of the decision, I read news articles of some religious organisations, especially the press release by Jamat-e-Islami Hind, calling the verdict “degenerate”. What distresses me so much about their statement is their lack of understanding of love. Dear Jamat-e-Islami Hind, love does not “destroy family systems”. Rather, it strengthens the system by letting love prevail over all, without discrimination. What may seem so unnatural to you is, in fact, a fundamental part of this beautiful universe we are all a part of. Love and freedom can never “prevent the progress of human race”. It can fortify it and make us a greater nation, a richer civilisation. The decriminalisation of homosexuality also safeguards daughters and sisters, by not letting them get dragged into marrying men who will never be able to love them.
It is unfortunate that leaders of multiple religious communities in India are defending Section 377. We have a historical opportunity to support each other and stand with love, acceptance and equality in the face of hate. We need to recognise and act on that opportunity. It is time to agitate against police violence, social pressures and dogmas that make our lived realities difficult. It is time to make efforts to stop families from hurting their queer and transgender children, for the privileged to step out of our comfort zones and fight injustice. While we celebrate the symbolic win, it’s imperative to prepare for the long road ahead. This isn’t “a dark precipice” we are “rushing headlong into”. Look up… there’s a rainbow in the sky.