Fantastic judgment: Activists

Activists across the country celebrated Thursday's Supreme Court verdict decriminalising consensual homosexual acts between adults, but cautioned that society and police needed to be sensitised if the judgment were to yield results on the ground.

By Pheroze L. Vincent
  • Published 7.09.18
People of LGBTQ community celebrate with a cake after the Supreme Court verdict on Thursday. (PTI)

New Delhi: Activists across the country celebrated Thursday's Supreme Court verdict decriminalising consensual homosexual acts between adults, but cautioned that society and police needed to be sensitised if the judgment were to yield results on the ground.

"It is a fantastic judgment.... The other thing that was very touching is that they (the Supreme Court) apologised to the community for what they have been put through," said Anjali Gopalan, founder of the Naz Foundation, which had waged a 17-year legal battle for LGBT rights.

"They also said that this judgment should be forwarded to every police station so that violations don't happen."

The apex court has struck down certain provisions in Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised all sexual acts "against the order of nature", even if consensual.

Ajita Banerjie, a Delhi-based gender and sexuality rights researcher, told The Telegraph: "Section 377 was used to blackmail, harass, arrest and extort money from LGBTQI people, especially those who occupy public spaces for sex work or begging."

She added: "The pretext of the law to harass people has now gone away with this historic judgment. The judgment provides equality and legitimacy to LGBTQI people, who were treated as second-class citizens. Legal recognition will hopefully pave the way for social recognition and (teach) society to be more inclusive and rights-respecting."

Banerjie said that despite an April 2014 apex court judgment giving legal recognition to transgender people, and Thursday's verdict according legitimacy to all adult and consensual sexual relations, there was still a long way to go in changing police behaviour.

"In the time since the (2014) judgment, the last (police) constable has not been sensitised as the government does not see it as its prerogative to translate good judgment into better policies and spread awareness. Activists are playing this role."

Devdutt Pattanaik, author of several books on mythology and sexuality in the Karmic religions, hoped that the act of forcing LGBTQI people into heterosexual marriages would now be criminalised.

"There are stories of gender transformation and same-sex love across our cultures. It's there in Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. There are lots of writings on homosexuality and queer ideas. There are almost 50 words to define the queer gender and queer sexuality in our country," he said.

"All this indicates a culture which was very forward-thinking.... Anyone who reads our scriptures knows that wisdom lies in accepting human genders and sexuality in inclusion and in love."

Gautam Bhan, veteran LGBT rights activist and a teacher at the Indian Institute of Human Settlements, Bangalore, told this newspaper: "We are happy that the court has reaffirmed that sexuality is inextricably connected to dignity, equality and constitutional rights. The main issue is that queer people are able to take on police violence."

He added: "We are particularly happy that Justice (R.F.) Nariman gave a specific direction to the Union of India to work with the police in their dealings with LGBT people, (and against) discrimination over health, work, housing and employment.... Those battles are very much where work has to begin for the next phase of the movement."

The United Nations also welcomed the judgment. It said in a statement: "The UN in India sincerely hopes that the court's ruling will be the first step towards guaranteeing the full range of fundamental rights to LGBTI persons. We also hope that the judgment will boost efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination against LGBTI persons in all areas of social, economic, cultural and political activity, thereby ensuring a truly inclusive society.

"The focus must now be on ensuring access to justice, including remedy; effective investigations of acts of violence and discrimination; and effective access to economic, social and cultural rights."

Frederick Rawski, Asia Pacific director of the global human rights NGO, International Commission of Jurists, said in a statement: "The ICJ hopes that it will provide an impetus for other countries, especially those of the Commonwealth of Nations, to revoke similar provisions that criminalise consensual sexual relations.

"It is time for the Indian Parliament to conduct wide-ranging review of existing legal framework, repeal discriminatory laws, and address other gaps in the law that prevent LGBT persons from fully exercising their rights."

Siddharth Dube, the author of No One Else, which is about a young man's struggle with homosexuality in a country where it is illegal, said: "Striking down this barbaric law is actually emancipatory for everyone in India - 'gay' or 'straight', well-off or poor, women or transgender or men.

"Because in this more humane society love, common sense, decency and justice will flourish. The bullies and bigots have been stripped of one potent tool for terrorising others - and all of us will benefit."