As June is being celebrated as the pride month worldwide, there is no good a time to look back at the LGBTQ movement in India and what all it took to witness the auspicious and historic morning of 6th September 2018. The movement commenced almost three decades ago .i.e. in 1990s and gained momentum as the time went by, routing its way to attain same sexual rights as any other citizen.
The repressive law which rendered homosexual intercourse as unnatural and a criminal offence under Chapter 16, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was introduced in 1860 when India was under the British rule. Though post independence the right to equality was implemented under article 14 in 1949 but homosexuality still remained a criminal offence.
AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA) released a 70 page report named “Less than Gay” in 1991 which revealed the shocking discrimination and torture extended towards Gay people especially at the hands of police. It called to repeal discriminatory legislature including 377 that discriminated against the LGBTQ community followed by mind numbing silence from Press club of India to raise the issue forward. Later in August 1992, ABVA organised first ever gay rights gathering in front of the Delhi police headquarters to protest against the rounding up of men from Connaught place on charges of homosexuality.
After incidents of sodomy were reported at Tihar, in 1994, ABVA wanted to distribute condoms to the prisoners to which permission was refused by Kiran Bedi, then inspector general of the Tihar jail in Delhi, saying it would encourage homosexuality, besides admitting that inmates indulge in it. The same year, ABVA filed petition in Delhi High Court challenging the constitutionality of Section 377. Failure to mobilize support led to the dismissal of the petition in 2001.
In 1999, India saw its first ever Gay pride Parade with only 15 attendees called as Calcutta Rainbow Pride. Same year, a manifesto titled ‘Lesbian Emergence’ was released too.
After the raids and arrests at a Bharosa NGO’s office on charges of homosexuality and operation of sex rackets, in December 2001, NAZ foundation ,a sexual health NGO, filed a PIL in Delhi High Court calling for the legalization of homosexuality which was again dismissed by the court in 2004.
In 2006, Another petition by NAZ and a lawyers collective succeeded to gain support by other organizations to reap desired verdict on 2nd July 2009 which decriminalized homosexuality. Though the relief was short-lived as soon a Delhi based Astrologer , Suresh Kumar Koushal challenged the verdict in Supreme court . The LGBTQ community faced a setback in 2013 when Supreme court overturned the verdict, saying Section 377 “does not suffer from the vice of unconstitutionality and the declaration made by the division bench of the high court is legally unsustainable.”
In 2015, MP Shashi Tharoor introduced a bill to decriminalize homosexuality but it was rejected by the Lok Sabha.
As Supreme Court upheld the Fundamental Right to privacy under the constitution in 2017, and said that “Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy. Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual,”, this granted a new wave of hope to the activists and organizations campaigning against the draconian 377.
Finally on 6th September 2018, the decades of struggle took a concrete form as the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Section 377 was unconstitutional and was described as ”irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary,” by Chief Justice Deepak Misra. The verdict was welcomed by all prominent politicians, actors and dignitaries while the ruling party openly opposed it after keeping mum for two days.
The judgment is seen as the first step towards the normalization of queer culture in India as the community no longer fears any legal opposition but still strives to dismantle the stereotypes prevailing and it will take more than a judgment to make the inclusion and acceptance of diversity in the Indian society a reality, when already the nation has been polarized on religious, cultural, economic and social grounds.
As Supreme court termed it “ This is the beginning of the end of Prejudice”, the verdict is also a tribute to all those who succumbed to the same prejudice.
Kudos to the strength and valor of those who kept the fight going.
Happy Pride Month!