December 11, 2013, was a day as any other for many people in this country dealing with inflation, poverty, violence, indecisive political parties and other such “commonplace” issues. For another set of people, this was a long-awaited day — a moment when the Supreme Court of India was going to deliver its judgment on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code ( IPC).Most were sure that the Delhi High Court judgment of July 9, 2009, decriminalising homosexuality would be upheld. After all, what would criminalising homosexuals achieve? Yet, the Supreme Court thought otherwise. What it did was render “the homosexual” criminal.
In 2009, I remember sitting in the high court and listening to Justice Shah pronounce the judgment. A number of us wept, smiled and looked on disbelievingly. I have often wondered why I wept. I have never faced any discrimination based on my sexual identity and yet I felt my personhood validated. My sexual identity is as much a part of me as my many other identities, and yet that one identity, until then, made me a criminal in the eyes of the law.
In 2013, I feel angry. Even though I believe that my human rights are inherent and not open to interpretation, I feel that the Supreme Court, in the form of the Judges who delivered the judgment, has stripped me of my personhood. Since when does the law or the courts decide what sexual acts I or anyone else can engage in consensually? Criminal, as far as I know, used as a noun, means a person who has committed a crime — since when did consensual sex between adults become a crime?
I am angry because what this judgment has done is undo the sense of personal liberty that many, many same-sex desiring and transgender people had post the Delhi High Court judgment. From being an equal citizen in the eyes of the law, all of us start with the tag of being a criminal. With that description firmly in place, we then have to negotiate the social, economic and political terrain.
To Be is AbsurdMany tell us that we do not have to wear our sexuality on our sleeve. The usual argument being that heterosexuals do not; after all, who is interested in who is doing whom and when? Clearly, that does not hold true for those of us who are seen as sexual deviants. It continues to be an issue of great interest to everyone. People want to know reasons: why, how, when, where — quite like exhibits in a museum.
I get angry when I hear statements by Rajnath Singh, a senior BJP leader, who believes that homosexuality is an unnatural act. Or when Ram Madhav, a spokesperson for the RSS, tweets: 377 is about an unnatural relationship. Why are they invoking the idea of unnatural?
Is the tag of unnatural based on the idea of numbers, or the ways in which one steps outside socially sanctioned boundaries, or is it the fact that it is repugnant to them that there are people who chose to live their lives according to their own desires and are not harming anyone?
What is it about an act of desire or lust or love that is unnatural if it is consensual? Their flawed notions of “unnatural”, “against Indian tradition”, “Western import” and “elite issue” that are used as arguments against homosexuality need to be recognised as superficial and unsubstantiated by research. The reality is that LGBT people are very much part of this country and deeming them criminals and unnatural will not wish them away
It’s Nothing, ReallyIt is not “much ado about nothing” as Meenakshi Lekhi, the national spokesperson of the BJP, stated in a television interview. The “nothing” that she refers to are the lives of countless LGBT people who have claimed their “homosexual” identity with pride and are living their lives according to what they see as selfaffirming for themselves. The “nothing” means that, once again, people are expected to silence one identity of theirs for fear of .reprisal from the law, from family, from neighbours who do not like them for their sexual identity .
But We Shall FightThat “nothing” is not an empty fear, as is evident from BJP leader Yashwant Sinha‘s statement that India could arrest US diplomats having same-sex companions as homosexuality is illegal in India. So, the much “ado” is really about validating people for who they are and whom they desire and ensuring that their rights are upheld as enshrined in the Constitution of India.
Deeming “homosexuals” criminal is as absurd as saying that all lefthanded people are hereby declared criminals. But we will fight on, because we have implicit belief that we, as a nation, are not absurd.