Would you be comfortable opening up about your sexual preference, the sexual acts you indulge in? How would you react when your relationship is labelled a crime?
The LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) community has been facing these questions for long, battling for their rights, and they are determined to go on till they become India’s pride.
According to petitioners challenging Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the law which criminalises any sort of homosexual activity, is not only archaic and unreasonable but a “hangover of post-colonial guilt”.
June is LGBTQI Pride Month, and the members of the community say they still feel marginalised. They assert India is missing the pink rupee, which describes the purchasing power of the gay community.
“A nation cannot progress if a large number of its population lives in fear or is discriminated against. We have had 70 years to right the wrongs,” said Keshav Suri, Executive Director, Lalit Suri Hospitality group and a known gay rights activist.
“We should start taking responsibility for our human rights and ourselves. Today, the LGBTQI community is in millions and we cannot afford for them to be marginalised. India is also missing the pink rupee, which is a big money today,” Suri added.
In 2009, the Delhi High Court had ruled that Section 377 was unconstitutional. But in December 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict.
There have been fresh pleas seeking to strike down the law. Chef Ritu Dalmia, along with Navtej Johar, Sunil Mehra, Ayesha Kapoor and Aman Nath, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the legal validity of Section 377.
“The ongoing fight is very frustrating but one also has to live with the fact; that’s how things work here. Finally, it seems that an end will come soon enough and hopefully a good positive end,” Dalmia said.
“Section 377 is a relic of colonial-era Victorian morality that should have no place in a constitutional democracy. These petitioners are asking that the constitutional guarantees of equality, dignity and fraternity be made real for them,” a petition lawyer said on condition of anonymity.
Actress Leena Jumani, who plays a lesbian in web series “Maya 2”, said the government should give the LGBT community the right to choose who to love, and with whom to spend their lives.
Suri pointed out how British Prime Minister Theresa May has apologised for introducing laws that criminalised same-sex relations in India and elsewhere in the former British Empire.
Navtej Singh Johar, a Bharatanatyam exponent, feels now is the time to step out of “archaic” times.
“There is a clarity that this should change. It can no longer continue like this simply because it is so archaic and unreasonable. In a way, what we are asking for is some kind of a systemic change and it will warrant some degree of heel dragging on the part of the polity. However, I am okay with the dragging because I am hopeful.”
Accepting same-sex couples must not be labelled “progressive” as it is a reality that has always existed, he pointed out.
“I find it quite dangerous to accord it the progressive label. Homosexuality does not stand in contrast to our lived culture and history. Creating that binary can be quite dangerous. What is holding us back is that we have so fully bought into the idea of India, an idea that was fabricated in the 19th century while we were on the back-foot and trying to redefine ourselves as per the morality of the coloniser, a Victorian morality to be precise,” he said.
“The ironic part is that the incongruity of 377 is glaringly emerging at a time when the regressive and fabricated idea of India is being asserted on a national level,” he added.
How can the mindset be changed?
Wipe off the “notion of the other/different”, Suri said, and stressed on education.
“We must educate ourselves, friends, colleagues, citizens, children to accept and respect everyone. We must ensure there is enough literature. In addition, there should be sensitisation workshops in schools, so that teenagers do not go through bullying or confusion, in the process of self-discovery.”
Besides, Johar says being gay is not an issue as grim as it is presented to be.
“Of course, it influences many people very seriously, even grievously, and we need to recognise that, but 377 is just plain unreasonable… That homosexuality is a crime is just an idea, it is not a reality… It is no one’s business if I like oranges more than apples.”
The media can have a positive impact on the dialogues which can shape public opinion, says Ayesha Kapoor, who like other petitioners, is brimming with positivity about driving a change.
“There is hope and positivity for millions of Indians, including myself,” she says.