Some reports say that the judgment on Section 377 has reduced the number of people living in countries under anti-gay sex laws from 42 per cent to 24 per cent; now, one of every seventh or eighth person in the world will not be governed by love laws. The Supreme Court of India has told the country that there are no limits to love and no ways of making love. We can now practise all the different positions in the Kamasutra and try every other method of pleasure mentioned in that ancient manual of lovemaking.
However, these are not the thoughts that come to my mind when the judgment is read out in Delhi earlier this month. It is late night where I live. Since I do not teach the next day, I stay awake and watch the news in an Indian channel that is still sane. My chat windows are open. My friends are awake in India, also waiting for the judgment. Some of them are already at the Supreme Court’s premises.
A few minutes before the news breaks, a friend calls, “It looks good, you know, it will go away.” But I am a writer. Though I try to find beauty everywhere, I am mostly cynical. I don’t feel the relief yet. Suddenly, the call drops. My friend in India does not receive my calls when I ring back. I am worried about him. The channel I am watching still hasn’t told its viewers what the update is, but, in a few seconds, the screen is full of loud cheers. At this point, I feel something move inside me. My friend calls back after a couple of minutes, “I was crying. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. Or in 2018.” I chuckle, but I am also emotional. I tell him, “You should now have your first legal sex as an adult”. We laugh.
I should be able to say something intelligent about this. Social media is asking me what is on my mind. To be honest, I don’t have any profound thoughts about this. I feel a sense of relief but my mind also runs through a series of stories. I think about my friend who used to live in central Delhi with his boyfriend. He is middle-class, educated and wears beautiful dress shirts to work. He has studied literature abroad in elite universities on prestigious scholarships. One night, on his way back home, he is mugged by a few men who are waiting for him at the Delhi Metro station near his house. It is a dark stretch from the road to his house.
They take away his wallet, but he saves his phone because other passengers arrive at the scene. It is said that tigers always get the smell of deer flesh, and, at the police station, instead of lodging his First Information Report, they ask him if he is single and why he hasn’t married despite being in his late 30s. The way they laugh and mock his singlehood threatens him. He leaves without filing the FIR. Just the way they sense who he is, he senses danger. I think about another friend of mine who goes for a walk with his friend, not boyfriend, at a park in Delhi, when they are arrested. I don’t know what they were wearing, if they were holding hands, or kissing. It shouldn’t matter. But they are arrested. My friend’s friend’s mother is on the operating table. They beg the policemen to let them go, but the police want money. They talk about Section 377 and the things that the law allows them to do to men “like them”.
These are still happier stories. My friend who was mugged was able to leave the police station. The two friends who were picked from the park were saved by one of their lawyer friends. I have been so privileged and protected by my class that I haven’t met anyone who has been subjected to actual violence because of this law. I have just read about them, heard stories from activist friends. So, as the news of the verdict comes in, I think about the numerous minorities among the sexual minorities who have been raped, beaten, extorted for years because of this law. I am not sure that is easily going to change even now.
I should heave a sigh of relief, but knowing how Indian law works, I am worried. I am worried about the kind of resistance we will face from religious zealots, worried about the long journey ahead: from the vast corridors of the Supreme Court of India to the narrow corners and confines of bedrooms and living rooms. For the mindset to change, I hope it won’t take another 100 years — I am worried about that, too.
But there are other pressing question marks that dangle in front of me. How can we forget that this government had a chance to repeal this law at the Parliament and turned a blind eye and ridiculed the member who introduced such a bill? We shouldn’t forget that the apex court had to step in because the government, which is supposed to protect its citizens, looked the other way, abdicating its responsibility? We also cannot stop thinking about the vulnerable among us: the Dalit queer, the trans people, the poor queer person. The change in the law is the first step in a long struggle ahead. As the celebrations die down and people walk out of parties and bars, let us remember that in this country, it is still safer to be a cow than a woman and we still have a government that creates the fiction of Urban Naxals to silence dissent. In a democracy, the menu card of freedoms needs to cover a wide spectrum. We need all these items on the menu, ready to be served. A meal is not complete if one item is missing.