Section 377 verdict: how the Northeast celebratedhttps://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/section-377-verdict-has-the-northeast-painting-itself-in-colours-of-joy-5343799/

Section 377 verdict: how the Northeast celebrated

Celebrations — some in private, others in public, some small, others big —  hailing the SC verdict decriminalising homosexuality took place across the Northeastern states

Section 377, Guwahati
Celebrations in Guwahati after the Section 377 verdict. Express photo by Tora Agarwala.

In Guwahati’s Dighalipukhuri area — the site for the city’s annual Pride Parade held every February since 2014 — the evening of September 6, saw a modest gathering of about 30 people, a few hours after section 377 was struck down. The group was not allowed to shout slogans or “make much of a noise”. Just nearby, a candlelight memorial was underway for an accident that happened in the city the day before. However, that did not do anything to dampen the spirits and it was evident as the young group — mostly between ages 18 – 30 — hugged and cried and laughed, all in the same breath.

Among them was a 28-year-old, present with his mother, who said — “When I was a teenager, I used to hate my mom for not accepting me. Today, I want to kneel down in front of her.” His mother hugged him, as everyone cheered. Later he added, with his mother by his side, “My mother doesn’t understand everything about all of this — but what she does understand is equality.” A few hours ago in the morning, their entire family had watched the historic verdict together on TV. “My cousin was holding my hand through out,” he said.

Another 25-year-old finance professional, also present, said that she came to terms with her sexuality only the previous year. “I reached out to the community through the Xukia (Assam’s only LGBTQ+ collective) network,” she said, adding that she was overwhelmed by the judgment. “Today I was in front of the TV all morning. Living in a city like Guwahati and being lesbian is not easy. But social media has really helped a lot.”

Section 377, Guwahati
Celebrations in Guwahati’s Dighalipukhuri area where the annual Pride Parade takes place every February since 2014. Express photo by Tora Agarwala.

While Assam’s LGBTQ+ movement is probably the strongest in the Northeast, there is still a long way to go. “We are very happy that the mindset will finally change. But this is just the first stage of our victory. We also have to see how the government will treat the community after this. For example, Assam still has no Transgender Policy despite the Supreme Court ruling. As a result, most of the transgenders in Assam have been left out of the NRC. Our fight will continue,” says Swati Bidhan Baruah, 27, well-known transgender activist and Conciliator in Lok Adalat, Assam.

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About 30 people gathered at Guwahati to celebrate the verdict. Photo Courtesy: Bidisha Ghoshal.

In Imphal, where the LGBTQ+ community gathered at the Manipur Press Club to cut a cake, organisations such as Solidarity and Action against the HIV Infection in India (SAATHII), All Manipur Nupi Manbi Association (AMANA), Empowering Trans Ability (ETA), Maruploi Foundation and All Trans Man Association (ATMA) expressed their profound happiness on the judgment. “We feel like we have come out of the cocoon. We hoped with this landmark judgment, the privilege and dignity that has been deprived would be regained. It is the happiest moment of our lives,” said Santa Khurai co-founder of AMANA, adding “Manipur was the first state in the Northeast to have the Pride Parade. We organised it in 2013. The next year, we replaced it with Miss Trans Queen Contest North East. That we did every year till 2016.”

In Nagaland, some members of the community are organising a celebration on the 9th and the 10th of this month. “In a Christian society like ours, the SC verdict means a lot. We do not have the opportunity to hold pride parades and such in public. Most of our meetings are undercover. But 377 verdict, I hope, will give people a sense of confidence,” says Keven, a LGBTQ+ activist based in Kohima.  

Section 377, Imphal
Celebrations at the Manipur Press Club. Express photo by Jimmy Leivon.

In Shillong’s Police Bazar, a “street celebration” will take place at 4 pm on Friday. “The KHADC CEM HS Shylla recently said that the KHADC Amendment Bill does not recognise the third gender. The 377 judgement is a big blow to him. I wonder what he will have to say now. I can’t express how happy I am — how happy we all are. Shillong has not done a pride walk till now — but after this historic judgment, I am certain we will make it happen this year,” says Rebina Subbah, founder chairman of Shamakami, the only LGBTQ+ organisation in Meghalaya.

From Mizoram, Goosh Vangchhia, 33, who is known to have come out as the state’s first gay man in public, said:  “I am certain preachers will be preaching negatively about the judgment in church but despite that for the Christian state of Mizoram and for our community, it is a milestone. Everyone should be equal. That’s what the Bible says. After all, it’s all abut love that Jesus is preaching.”

Section 377, Guwahati
In Shillong’s Police Bazar, a “street celebration” will take place at 4 pm on Friday.

Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura are two states in the Northeast which do not have any active LGBTQ+ organisation. “I’m from Arunachal Pradesh and here the people don’t even know that we exist. After watching the verdict today, I came out to many of my friends. And they understood. I was depressed for very long — but today, I cannot even define my happiness,” said a 20-year-old from Itanagar. Because there is going to be no public celebration, 30-year-old transgender makeup artist, Marie Game is celebrating with a few friends with “cake and alcohol”. “There is no LGBTQ+ organisation here. The society is homophobic. There is one organisation which works with the MSM community but that’s all. Still, I am so so happy today,” said Game.

Meanwhile in Tripura, Shivani Acharjee, a transwoman civil engineer said that the overall gender sensitivity to LGBTQ+ rights has always been “horrible”. While hailing the Supreme Court verdict she said, “Stigmatising homosexuals and transgenders is so common in Tripura that no LGBTQ+ community/collective has ever had the chance to  grow in the state. I recall the abuses, body shaming, slander and insults when I grew up. The Supreme Court verdict is a reply to all of them.” 

Subhojit Dutta, an LGBTQ+ activist also feels the same way. Dutta hails from Assam and has been living in Tripura for the last few years. “I have worked in Tripura for some time now but I haven’t seen any organization for LGBTQ rights here. I feel there is lack of awareness or a fear of social stigma among people in this state,” he said. However, he added that he would continue to spread awareness till the time an LGBTQ+ community is formed in the state.