4 Yrs After Scrapping Article 377, What Is On-Ground Reality For Queer Lives In India?

Without marriage equality, a horde of civil rights remain inaccessible to the queer community from joint adoption to financial benefits, relegating them to the position of second class citizens.

6th September, 2018, was a historic day for the queer community in India, as well as, for human rights.

A five-judge bench led by then CJI Dipak Misra held that the colonial era sodomy laws enshrined in the Section 377 was “irrational, indefensibly and manifestly arbitrary”. Consensual sexual activity between queer adults no longer remained a crime in the eyes of the law.

Of the 75 years of Indian independence, queer people have been free to be who they are for only four now.

The happiness wasn’t the same everywhere

I was a 19 year old closeted lesbian who was struggling with compulsory heterosexuality. I cried buckets and buckets of happy tears that day. As did others; a bevy of people I knew in their late teens or early twenties came out as bisexual or pansexual or lesbian.

Unfortunately, a bunch of those people came out to their families, as well, for whom the Supreme Court judgement meant nothing, but the truth of who their kids were or whom their kids loved was earth-shattering. Homosexuality or gender nonconformity was still a sin in their eyes, it still remained unnatural to them. Violence and turmoil ensued in these households.

Justice Indu Malhotra from the Constitutional bench opined that “history owes an apology” to the community. So does the present.

Socially, not much has changed. Lesbian suicide rates are as high as ever, trans women are assaulted and murdered in brutal ways for their gender identity, gay men are lynched, gay and queer boys in school find themselves victims of bullying and even physical abuse. A simple google search about queer suicide rates would bring you pages after pages of news about underage kids who could not survive the trauma society inflicts on them, whether in terms of abuse inside families, or bullying at school or even conversion therapy.

How have the judiciary, the executive (police) and the Govt reacted?

The community has been struggling and protesting tirelessly from the early ‘90s against social mores and draconian traditions adopted from colonial victorian sensibilities. This has translated into landmark judgements like the 2009 decriminalisation of 377 (which was overturned in 2013) or the NALSA judgement or the 2018 one in focus.

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But whatever little dregs of progress has been institutionalised is the work of the judiciary. Since the 2018 judgement, they have reunited queer couples forcibly separated by their families, banned conversion therapy, acknowledged that queer relationships too make up a family, one Madras High court judge even underwent counselling to better understand queerness while presiding over a bench dealing with rights of queer people.

The executive, on the other hand, especially the police and central government has staunchly stood in the way of progress and social justice. If you take out five minutes of your time and talk to any person from the Hijra or Kinnar community about police harassment, you would find out that sexual and physical abuse from representatives from the law enforcement authorities remain their biggest challenge in their everyday lives. Studies have been conducted on the same, focussing on this abuse of power.

The Central government, too, contributes to the marginalisation of queer lives through opposing marriage equality or passing the objectionable Trans Act. Without marriage equality, a horde of civil rights remain inaccessible to the community from joint adoption to surrogacy, relegating them to the position of second class citizens.

So what about what happens next? What changes do we need?

But society doesn’t change overnight. One can’t wake up one find day and decide to smash cis hetero patriarchy to bits and succeed at that within the hour. It takes time, effort, resources and people. The four years that have gone by have seen some positive changes for the community.

Here are a few:

  • Queer people are more visible today, whether in public or social media or multi media.
  • Conversations which was limited to groups and associations fighting for our rights have gone beyond those confines and sections of liberal media cover queer issues.
  • Bollywood, too, has made films like ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ or ‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan’ which are wonderfully mainstream, even if not all that well-made.
  • The annual pride marches have expanded into newer cities and even many small towns. More people are coming out, they have some hope now that a lot of them couldn’t afford before.
  • Most of these advances are limited to liberal groups in urban settings. The periphery hasn’t been privy to the same dialogues me and my friends in liberal universities of metropolitan cities have access to.
  • The societal and institutional settings still prohibit queer people, particularly working class or Dalit queer people, from claiming their human rights.
  • The community and the groups working for queer liberation needs to focus on these groups.
  • Workshops need to be conducted in low income areas and in the rural interiors.
  • Marriage equality is a basic civil right that cannot be denied to the gays but we also have other fish to fry.
  • Violence against trans bodies need to be dealt with, particularly institutional, state-sponsored violence.

If these four years have initiated conversations, the next five years need to witness these conversations taken to the periphery. Every queer person, wherever they are located, whatever their individual identity, deserve a life of dignity. As Maya Angelou said, none of us can free until everybody is free.

Image source: a still from the film Badhaai Ho

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About the Author

Kamalika

A postgraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional feminist and an avid reader when she's not busy telling people about her cats. Adores walking around and exploring read more...

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