With the Supreme Court legalising same-sex relations between consenting adults, Anand Vasudevan, who initiated and coordinated the IIT Pravritti petition, says Section 377 was mainly used as a tool for harassment. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
You grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s when there was little public awareness of homosexuality and their rights. What was your process of awakening?
I am 53 now. I graduated from IIIT Madras in 1987. It was in the 90s that I became aware and accepting of my own sexuality Part of the reason was that those were the days before the internet There was no source of information about sexuality and how normal it was. There were issues and confusions that I was struggling with. I didn’t know that there were other gay people in the world and there are other people from the LGBT community. It was a slow discovery. It was when I moved to Mumbai to start my professional life and started meeting gay people and having gay friends that I found out about the struggles of the community. I was in a long-term relationship for a long time — we were together for 14 years.
What did you find out about ‘the struggles of the community’?
I heard horrible stories That was when I found out about 377 criminalising us. Many of my friends suffered the consequences of 377 — how they had been extorted by the police. I was fortunate because I was in a long-term stable relationship and we were living together. Blackmail and extortion from the police and threats from aggressive people who decide to take policing on themselves was a way of life. We and the community have always been deeply aware of the consequences of 377 although I didn’t know of any case where there had been prosecution under 377 but it was a tool for harassment. Even if we are innocent, some member of the public can take it upon themselves to get aggressive.
Do you remember where you were when you heard about the Naz petition in 2001?
By 2000, I had moved out of the country with my partner. I can tell you this that, though we had a good life in Mumbai, and our families and friends had accepted us, 377 is one of the reasons we left the country. The other deciding factor was that I wanted international exposure for my career but probably the biggest attraction for us was that we could live a happy and open life as a couple in an accepting society if we moved abroad. Since we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity, we took it. In 2001, I received a series of emails from India that told him the same thing — an organisation called Naz Foundation had filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court challenging Section 377. I was delighted because there was a chance that the Damocles’ sword that hung over our heads may finally be gone.
What made you file the PIL this year?
In April, I was kayaking in Rishikesh when, amid the turbulence and the rapids, I had a brainwave. Maybe, confronting the waves had something to do with it but I got this thought, ‘Why don’t we, as Pravritti, file a petition against Section 377?’ I felt that it would be meaningful as we were a diverse group of young people, the youngest is 19 and seniors. Moreover, IIT is an aspirational brand in India and the judges would take an interest. When I posted this proposal on the group’s Facebook page, everybody was gung-ho. With only two weeks to go before the court recessed for summer, we scrambled to find a lawyer, collect stories and finish the paperwork. Their petition was signed by 20 members and among them were two women and one trans-woman.