“To not be able to love the one you love is to have your life wrenched away. To do this to someone else is to murder their soul.”
I vividly recall stumbling upon these lines by the revered writer, Vikram Seth who wrote this when the Supreme Court reinstated an archaic orthodox colonial era ban which made homosexuality a criminal offence in 2013 ; section 377. As I grew older, this is all I saw around me – heteronormative norms prevalent in every possible aspect of the society that you can fathom. The construct of marriage? Only a man and a woman can be bound in matrimony . Sex-education in schools? The lessons are apparently only designed for people that conform to heterosexuality. When we do so, we overlook the multitudes of people that associate with different sexual preferences and gender identities.
It took us more than seventy years to come out of the conservative and regressive bubble of the colonial era. It took me ten years and millions of other Indians years of struggle to even embrace the reality encompassing their sexuality but homosexuality in India is still an invisible conflict. For years when there were no pride parades in my city, I felt alienated and often pondered upon the plight of those living in far less fortunate circumstances than me that I can’t even imagine and those people identifying as an individual of the queer community in units of villages, communities, towns, etc. where the belief around homosexuality is as bizarre as the repercussions such individuals face at the hands of bigotry of the masses.
The idea of human rights rests on the central premise that all individuals are equal. Anything that undermines that dignity is a violation, for it violates the principle of equality and paves the way for discrimination and sheer prejudice.
The human rights in, every aspect of LGBTQIA+ people ; are coming into sharper focus around the world, with important advances in many countries in recent years including the adoption of new legal provisions. The Preamble to the Indian Constitution states justice – social, economic, and political equality of status – for all individuals. The right of equality before law and equal protection under the law is guaranteed in Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
In the summer of April 2014, the Honorable Supreme Court of India ruled in NALSA vs Union of India that the rights and freedoms of transgender people in India were protected under the Constitution. In September 2018, the Supreme Court also decriminalized adult consensual same-sex relationships in the Section 377 judgment review. These judgments are considered a landmark both in terms of their expansive reading of constitutional rights and in empowering LGBTQIA+ persons. Both judgments indeed mark an imperative moment for queer rights that not only reversed a relic of British imperial rule but also ordered that LGBTQIA+ Indians be accorded all the protections of their constitution. This was a victorious revelation, but it absolutely does not mean that LGBTQIA+ people in India are fully free or perceived as equal among their fellow citizens. It undermines how much work remains to be done still in India and the rest of the world to overturn antiquated and repressive anti-queer legal provisions. A recent instance of 2019 unfortunately only goes on to prove the gravity of how problematic are notions surrounding gender and sexuality actually are. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) passed by the Indian Parliament in 2019 showed a lack of understanding of the complexities in people who do not conform to the gender binary, male/female. It had serious flaws, because of the basic lack of comprehension about gender. It mandates a certificate from a district magistrate declaring the holder to be transgender. This goes against the principle of self determination itself, activists argue along with the alarming fact that there is no room for redress in case an appeal for such a certificate is rejected.
India is a vast and diverse country and attitudes towards this subject and experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals vary to a huge extent. The disparity between urban and rural India, language, caste, class and gender add further complexities to comprehend this topic more fully. What we should take note of as informed and responsible citizens is that India’s LGBTQIA+ citizens are definitely not a “minuscule minority”. We have a voice that is strong and refuses to be silent any longer in our efforts to reclaim equality. Love doesn’t fit in a box and it never discriminates, neither should we. We have the absolute and inalienable right to define ourselves in are own terms and expression. We have the right to express ourselves and our identities without fear of violence or retribution. We are human beings, holders of human rights, and we need to recognized as such within the societies we live in.
This post was written by Akshiti Chauhan, Ist year