I don’t think, in all my years of growing up, I ever had my parents say “I love you” to me. Not because they did not love me, but because in Gujarati, the language we predominantly use at home, there is no possibility of saying it. Any attempt — ‘Hoon tane prem karu chu’, or ‘Mane tara par prem che’, would sound bookish, and thus, empty. But Gujarati has lots of words for love. The love between father and son is pitrutva, that of a mother towards her child is mamta, and of the child for its parents is vatsalya; the sister’s preet finds a brother’s whal, and siblings are bound in sneh. But these words have no translation outside the rich tapestry of sociality they exist in, and this is the same for almost all of our Indian languages.
These are words that are nouns and it is difficult to use their verb forms. They remain ideal types of feeling rather than descriptions of action. So, it wasn’t a surprise to me that our parents didn’t — not till long after we left home and English entered our family spaces — ever tell us that they love us. We did not have the vocabulary for the precise sentiment, and so we never said it. Instead, it manifested in the touch, the embrace, the smile and the active intimacy of actions which stood as testimony of the love that we could not define.
The lexicon of touching — the natural expression of love for me — was the vocabulary of intimacy, trust, affection and acceptance in my sociality. The clap on the back between friends, the hand on the shoulder or the exuberant hug were manifestations of love. Who you can and cannot touch was linked closely to who you can and cannot love, and how. While the expression “I love you” waited for a reciprocal response, the hand held in silence demanded no answer. Love in India, be it social, familial or romantic, has always had that sense of the tactile. Perhaps, that is the reason why kissing came to Bollywood so late, because to kiss was to also claim and express love. To kiss without love was obscene. Love, in India, is a physical verb.
Queer love, then, is no exception. It also did not have a local vocabulary or language to express itself in. Our myths, legends, fables, and epics are filled with queer practices — male gods taking female forms, consummating their desire with same-sex persons, changing their sexuality and genders in a fluid allegory of social intimacy. These were not merely practices. They were the physical verbal languages, signposts and registers of desire and love.
In implementing Section 377, the British ensured that they colonised not only our country but also our bodies. They imported shame and put it on practices and desires, which were accepted and celebrated in the country. They insisted that the only acceptable love is one of penile transaction that essentially leads to procreation — a violent law that not only denied the actions of love between consenting adults of same and different sexes, it alsoactively disallowed any local grammar of love to emerge in the country.
The judgment decriminalising consensual sex between adults, irrespective of their orientation or sex, is momentous because it doesn’t just condone an action. It suggests that we are finally free to locate and celebrate a language that can match our desires. The British law criminalised our many ways of claiming love. This judgment elevates our right to love as a fundamental right, and continues our Swaraj movements by decolonising our intimacies.
Decriminalisation of homosexuality, then, is not about queer love. It is about all love. It is about recognising that as a society we can only grow strong if we learn to love at intersections. In our increasingly polarised times when actions of hate — lynching, murdering, intimidation, bullying, trolling, and abuse — are on the rise, this judgment reminds us that the only counter to such violence is going to be in our right to love without fear, and, in any form that brings happiness in our lives.