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Motivated to come out & maimed now
‘From man in love to possible criminal’

Rainbow flags at a gay rights vigil in New Delhi. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, Dec. 11: Lakhs of homosexual men and women across the country fear the return of blackmail and police extortion, pressure from families and social stigma after a four-year relief.

Ashish Datta, a 23-year-old writer, revealed to his family and friends two years ago that he was gay and began a relationship. The Supreme Court ruling today will render him a criminal if he pursues that relationship.

“My world has come crashing down. I was motivated by the high court judgment and it buoyed me to make the decision to come out of the closet. I was free to be gay, behave in the feminine way that I am naturally and the law was not against me. Today, suddenly, this right has been snatched away from me,” said Datta who was part of a protest rally at Jantar Mantar today.

Datta had earlier directed nervous questions at gay rights activists at a meet they addressed soon after the Supreme Court rejected the Delhi High Court order of 2009 decriminalising gay sex.

“Can I be arrested for being gay? Can I be harassed? What should I do?” These were some of the questions asked.

“I have never even thought of these questions since I came out after it was legalised. Yesterday, I was a young man in love. Today, I am a criminal who could be harassed for holding his boyfriend’s hand in public,” said Datta.

Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation, which was a petitioner in the 2009 case, said the past four years were the best for the LGBT community and the high court judgment had encouraged youths to openly acknowledge their sexuality.

“Police harassment had decreased and people were more comfortable being what they were. Now suddenly they are criminals because of their sexual orientation.

“I am not worried that people from this community would be arrested and tried because that has to follow legal procedure. What I am concerned about is the constant harassment that they would now have to face. Why open a door only to slam it shut on our faces again,” Gopalan said.

Yashraj Goswami, a 25-year-old student who came out in 2010, said he was still dealing with the fact that expressing his sexuality, even in the confines of his own room, could lead to criminal cases and harassment.

“The (high court) judgment was a great help to me. I had the solace of knowing that the State was behind me. Now, anyone can exploit me for being myself and I can’t complain. My parents, who were supportive of me coming out, are now worried that I might be targeted,” Goswami said.

Members of the LGBT community who came out before the high court verdict recalled the horrors of the past.

“We were harassed, discriminated against, blackmailed and ostracised. We were victims of violence, some were forcibly married off and some even given electric shocks by families to get rid of their ‘disease’. The SC order will bring back all these frightening prospects,” said Gautam Bham, an LGBT rights activist.

For Soham Sinha (name changed), 20, who was at the protest, the decision to come out has to be postponed indefinitely. “I had made up my mind to tell my family that I was gay as I was expecting the SC to uphold the HC order. Now, I am ashamed that I will continue to live a secret life,” Sinha said, tears in his eyes.

LIFE AND TIMES OF SECTION 377

First introduced through the Buggery Act in 1538 under the reign of Henry VIII and it was treated equal to felony

Introduced in India by the British as part of the Indian Penal Code. The draft of the IPC was prepared by the First Law Commission, chaired by Lord Thomas Macaulay in 1860 and it was imposed in 1862 in British India

Independent India retained Article 377 as part of the IPC

1967, Britain abolished the Buggery Act following the Wolfenden Report. The report said: “Homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence.” At the end of 1954, in England and Wales, there were 1,069 men in prison for homosexual acts which prompted an amendment. The 15-member committee headed by John Wolfenden met for 62 days to come up with the report

In 1991, the first organised protest against Article 377 launched in India by AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan

In 2001, the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, an activist group, filed a public interest litigation in Delhi High Court

On July 2, 2009, Delhi High Court overturned a part of Article 377 and decriminalised consensual sexual acts of adults in private

On December 11, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 377 was not unconstitutional and the high court’s decision was legally unsustainable. But legislature free to deliberate on the section and delete the section from the statue book

What does Section 377 say?

377. Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine