The Supreme Court judgment, which reiterated the constitutional legitimacy of Section 377 of the IPC, and the political class’s reaction to it reveal that both the judiciary and the executive are afflicted with two different kinds of problems.
One of the facts that the Supreme Court took into consideration while declaring that Section 377 is free of any constitutional infirmity is that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community is a numerical minority. In the light of the verdict, it now appears that the Far Right is no longer the sole champion of the principle of majoritarianism. Since most Indians are deemed heterosexual, it appears that in the eyes of the apex court, the myriad forms of discrimination against sexual minorities and the undermining of their rights do not merit judicial intervention.
The Parliament has now been given the liberty to dwell on the propriety of Section 377. The reactions of some prominent Indian politicians are instructive to ascertain the wisdom behind the decision. Most politicians — even bitter rivals like Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress and Biman Bose of the CPI(M) — have joined hands to state that the criminalization of homosexuality is not a matter of national concern. Rajnath Singh and the Bharatiya Janata Party are, unsurprisingly, in agreement with the Supreme Court verdict. Sonia Gandhi expressed her disappointment, and her party, which heads the coalition government at the Centre, has filed a review petition. But the dominant view echoes that of the Congress general-secretary, who opined that issues such as LGBT rights, abortion and the legalization of prostitution feature prominently in the politics of developed countries. In India, however, questions regarding livelihood are more popular with the electorate.
Join the dots
The collective political apathy stems from the fact that the LGBT community, numbering around 12 million by a conservative estimate, is perceived to be electorally insignificant. (That regressive legal judgments and institutional indifference contribute to the invisibility that renders them politically dispensable is seldom reflected upon.) But the explanation that Indian politics is propelled by problems of livelihood reflects the perverse success that our leaders have had in associating politics with governance — the provision of jobs, roads, power, water, and so on — but seldom with such universal rights as justice, equality and privacy. The links between politics and progress with justice and equality have been cleverly blurred. Not just the lop-sided growth curve, but India’s refusal to treat sexual minorities as equal citizens is a consequence of this narrow understanding of politics, something that is inimical to its claim of being an inclusive democratic polity.
This devious delinking can be challenged by incorporating the question of discrimination of sexual minorities into mainstream politics. But that cannot be the responsibility of the LGBT community alone. The increasing fracturing of dissent in India on insular lines of caste, class and identity does raise this possibility. This danger can be averted through the joining of the LGBT movement with those that are being led to empower other marginalized communities. It may not be immediately feasible to unify these movements launched by a diverse people. But, as a start, what can be demonstrated is the will to confront structural inequalities and prejudices that often permeate intimate spaces and relationships.
This will to confront goes beyond the customary signing of online petitions or watching from the sidelines the spectacle of a Pride march. It also means casting one’s vote against homophobic politicians who, as Vikram Seth reminded us aptly, are “unIndian”.