An year after the Delhi High Court passed a landmark verdict decriminalising homosexuality, gays in India can certainly breathe freer. But it’s not all sunshine and roses with social prejudices still well entrenched, especially outside the big cities.
On July 2, 2009, the Delhi High Court overturned the 150-year-old section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which penalised people voluntarily engaging in “unnatural sex” with imprisonment up to 10 years or life.
An year later, there is an upbeat mood in the gay, lesbian and transgender community in India, majority of whom believe that the order has encouraged many more homosexuals to come out of the closet.
“The decision has had a positive impact on us. Now we feel much safer. Laws like these tell people that it is okay to be different and that democracy cannot and should not become the tyranny of the majority over minorities,” said Aditya Kashyap, a gay activist.
“As long as our basic human rights are safeguarded, rest can fall in place on its own,” he said.
A similar view was shared by Tripti Tandon, head-advocacy of Lawyers’ Collective which represented voluntary organisation Naz foundation that fought the eight-year-long case in the high court.
“It has really generated a lot of public debate. Homosexuals are now finding it easier to come out,” she said.
She said a positive change is coming about in the mindset of the people, with even schools and colleges debating the issue which till few years back was considered a taboo.
“Recently, we conducted a meeting in Delhi University where teachers and professors talked openly about homosexuality,” Tandon said.
Leena Meghaney, another advocate working closely for the cause, said: “This judgment for the first time provides people with a right to their sexual orientation. It is indeed a positive step. It is for the first time that the judiciary recognised the homosexuals’ rights.”
Twenty-two-year-old gay activist Sameer Handa also acknowledged that there was an increase in tolerance within the society. “People are curious. They are talking about it and many accept us the way we are.”
There is no doubt that a slow revolution is taking place, but when it comes to unconditional acceptance by the society the community has a long way to go.
Especially in smaller towns, the picture is not so rosy. There are incidents galore where homosexuals committed suicide because of family torture or were thrashed and humiliated by the police.
“The extreme example of harassment against homosexuals is the case of S.R. Siras, a professor at the Aligarh Muslim University. We assisted him in the case against his sacking, but sadly he committed suicide. It is proof of the level of harassment homosexuals face in our society,” Tandon said.
She said they were still getting a lot of harassment cases involving gays.
“We still receive many cases where a family or the police or both were harassing couples or individuals. But now with (Section) 377 gone, they are not afraid anymore and are taking action,” she added.
Even now, gay men and women, pressurised by family, go ahead for an arranged marriage. “It becomes a tragedy, with the lives of two people ruined by such marriages,” Handa said.
Looking towards the future, there is a unified wish by the gay rights activists and lawyers that India should have a discrimination-free society where no one would judge the other person.
“I want my children to grow up in a free society. She or he should not be judged by caste, colour or sexual orientation. They should be free to make their own choices which in turn should be respected by the society,” Meghaney said.