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Saturday, February 27, 2021

A victory, a new battle

As a minority, we continue to fight for freedom, and to keep the freedom won

Written by Harish Iyer |
Updated: September 7, 2018 6:44:26 am
section 377 This is the first of many battles. The fight for equality for any minority is a life-long one.  (Express photo by Kevin Dsouza)

There is an unusual sense of calm around me even as my phone incessantly rings and WhatsApp forwards flow in at the speed of light. There is din around me, there is a quiet within me. Guess this is how freedom feels.

I have felt like this before, in 2009, after the Delhi High Court verdict on Section 377, which in effect decriminalised consensual sexual acts between adults in private. Somewhere, I assumed that the taste of freedom was absolute. Come 2013, life reminded me that it was not. The Supreme Court set aside the Delhi High Court judgement by Justice AP Shah and put the ball in Parliament’s court to decide the fate of individuals the court dubbed as a “minuscule minority”.

We were worthy only of ridicule when a parliamentarian, Shashi Tharoor, made two attempts to invite the interest of the House for a discussion. Even voices that supported us were called gay, as though it is some kind of a swear word. We finally had to take our battle back to the courts. Like a football, we were passed between court and Parliament. The apex court was our last hope. Five petitioners joined in, and then several others, to work against this law of inhumanity. And while definitely late, we have our freedom back.

After basking in the glory of my new-found wings, I have some questions that need answers: Who is the state to take my freedom away in the first place? Isn’t it supposed to ensure our civil liberties? Why am I unequal? Why should I find a valid “reason” for being queer? Why is there a need, despite being born with queerdom, to prove the existence of the queer gene? Why does the world deliberate on my sex life and find nothing unethical in questioning my ethics of love? These are questions that should be answered by those we voted to power. Instead, they are the ones who have pushed us in into deep corners of shame. Let us mince no words when saying this — our courts did the job brilliantly because our parliamentarians did not. Barring a minuscule minority, they either skirted the issue or simply joined the voices of ridicule.

We have had Subramanian Swamy who thought that homosexuality is a mental disorder. Rajnath Singh said he wouldn’t support unnatural homosexuality. Sushma Swaraj said gay people cannot avail of surrogacy because homosexuality is against the Indian ethos. Yogi Adityanath said it is an unnatural act and cannot be supported.
It is a pity that we had to consider it a “softened stance” and a “positive message” when Dattatreya Hosabale from the RSS said “no criminalisation, but no glorification either”. What do we glorify, we who simply live our truth?

The Congress, the grand old party of India could also have had Section 377 read down to decriminalise all acts of consensual sex between adults. They did nothing concrete. It was only when they were losing the 2014 elections that they came out vociferously in support of decriminalisation. There were those like Milind Deora and Priya Dutt who spoke about Section 377 as early as the mid-2000s. However, their voice was not given the importance it deserved.
I also need to acknowledge that the CPM has been unwavering in its support, as has the BJD and Anbumani Ramadoss of the PMK.

Activists like Anjali Gopalan and Ashok Row Kavi have put in years of work for our rights, and lawyers like Anand Grover of the Lawyers Collective have toiled to bring us the freedom we enjoy. Everyone who put their name in the application in front of the Supreme Court, without worrying about the consequences needs a special mention — the eloquence of advocate Menaka Guruswamy and other lawyers fighting the case, and the understanding of the esteemed five-member bench have all won the case.

This is the first of many battles. The fight for equality for any minority is a life-long one. Either we fight for freedom, or we fight to keep the freedom we have won. But I am tired of fighting. I want to rest, with the assurance that you will not take my freedom away.

Will you make that promise?

The writer is a queer rights activist

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