A repeal of Section 377 would demonstrate that I am not a criminal but simply a normal human being. The social stigma around being gay is wrong. I told my parents I was lesbian when I was only 17 years old. They were scared for my future, concerned what people would say and worried I would die alone without a partner. The Delhi High Court ruling in 2009 encouraged me to live in India without fear. I was able to convince my parents that nobody who mattered would judge me and those who would judge don’t matter. I came out to the media in 2011. I was lucky that my parents’ love for me was greater than their fear. They supported my decision to come out and they welcomed my wife, their daughter-in-law into our family. But in 2013, once again the law changed and re-categorized me as a criminal. 377 is an archaic law with no recognition of humanity. It has no place in a modern democracy. The Supreme Court has the historic chance to replace fear and shame with strength and love.
‘I’ve been waiting for the day I can walk hand in hand with the one I love’
— Onir | 49, Filmaker
I still remember 2013. I was in Hyderabad for a talk and activists in Delhi were calling to say they were very positive about the Supreme Court verdict the next day. But when I heard that the court had reinstated the ban, I had tears in my eyes. I’ve neither gone around brandishing my sexuality nor hiding it. Yet I’ve always wondered why my preference was treated as a crime. Whenever I’ve been in a relationship, I’ve been quite open about it but that wasn’t always the case for my partner. Often my relationships haven’t worked out because people were leading double lives. If Section 377 is repealed, I don’t have to be extra careful, especially in the public space, about how someone could misuse or abuse my love. If the SC empowers you, a relationship will not be an act of criminality. I’ve waited for the day that I can walk hand in hand with the one I love without being judged.
377 is a constant reminder of being trapped in a draconian age. It is also one of the reasons why very talented Indians leave India and go away to countries that will treat them with respect and dignity. It’s one of the things I’ve been ashamed of. But now the question remains, as it does for every other law in India: we can change the books,but who’s going to catch India up to its laws? The stigma of homosexuality still looms large in Indian society, law or no law. Also, the law doesn’t impact me. It excludes women, because what women do together does not constitute ‘sex’. I don’t know whether to be relieved or insulted.
‘377 makes me vulnerable. What if someone barges into my home?’
I am head of radiology at a corporate hospital in Mumbai, openly gay and a LGBTQ activist. Yet, there was a time when I never wanted to come out of the closet.
I recall it was during my post-graduation that my family started putting pressure on me to get married. By the time my PG was over, the pressure intensified. My mother kept asking me to marry and I kept refusing. Finally, she asked me if I had a problem. Then I had no choice but to come out.
Initially, it was difficult for her to accept. But it had an opposite effect on me — it liberated me. I no longer had to lie about my identity and about my partner.
But coming out is a lifelong process. Every time you make new friends, get new colleagues you need to tell them about
yourself. The fact that I am a doctor helped me come out. Science has established there’s nothing abnormal or wrong about homosexuality. To pretend otherwise would have been unscientific and unprofessional for me.
When I joined the hospital where I am currently employed, my colleagues kept asking why I am not married? So, I decided to tell them about myself at an office party. We had been invited along with our spouses. I bought my partner along and told everyone that I am gay. Now, my colleagues visit us home, they know my partner, we party together… like any other couple.
I have never faced any discrimination except once when a colleague, a senior doctor, humiliated me in a Facebook post.
He posted something homophobic on his page and I criticised it. Next, he tagged me in a post that called me a pervert, and said that he won’t allow his children near me… and so on.
The rant really shook me up and I took some time to get over it. However, it also got me thinking. If a senior doctor nursed such homophobia, what could be said for the rest of the medical community?
That’s when I set up Health Professionals for Queer Indians in March this year. It discusses various mental and physical health issues faced by the members of our community. In fact, it played a role in the Indian Psychiatric Society removing
homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
I, along with the rest of the community, are anxiously waiting for this Supreme Court verdict. That scene from the film Aligarh always looms as a threat in my mind. What if someone barges into my home? What if someone starts a rumour, and ruins my career? As long as 377 is there I am vulnerable.
On a personal note, I’d like to marry my partner after the 377 is repealed.
We have been together for 14 years. He’s my everything but legally he’s nothing. I can’t mention him in my will, in my hospital records or simply open a joint bank account with him. I want all those rights.
‘I am ashamed my country has such a law’
— Devdutt Pattanaik | 47, Mythologist
Section 377 makes me feel ashamed that my country’s constitution allows such a primitive Victorian law, especially when I am representing India at global platforms. If repealed, then it will get easier for me to chat about my sexuality beyond just friend circles. I hope it also creates more legitimate public spaces for queer people in cities and villages of India. The validation of law is an important element for removing prejudice from the minds of people, especially friends and family members. Also, with 377 repealed, corporations can more fearlessly extend protections and benefits to their LGBTQ employees and create a friendly work environment for our youth.
‘Pave way for inclusive, progressive India’
— Wendell Rodricks | 58, Fashion designerRecently, there has been much surround sound over Section 377. An enthusiastic liberal media wants the court and Centre to scrap 377. LGBTQ people, for the most part, want more than just a constitutional striking down. Some want marriage, more rights and liberties. But that is putting the cart before the horse. How can petitioners demand marriage and other rights when the first step to decriminalise sex between consenting adults of the same gender is not yet cleared? Wisdom and prudence should prevail among the over-enthusiastic in media, activist petitioners and public. Also, let’s leave religion and religious references out of the argument. All one needs is the repealing of 377. If the Supreme Court clears that hurdle, the verdict of the 2009 Delhi high court will come into effect. And that is enough reason to celebrate a progressive, inclusive India on a world
‘Real work will start now. We want civil rights, inheritance, job security’
— Apurva Asrani | 40, Film editor and screenplay writer
The 2013 judgment was a travesty of justice. If the Supreme Court overturns its decision, and we have a good feeling they will, then a wrong would have been undone. The real work will start now. As citizens of this country, we want equal rights. Civil rights. Inheritance. Job security. By labelling us as criminals, the outdated law has created a stigma in society. We deal with that stigma when we are persecuted by our families for falling in love, when housing societies discriminate against us, when bosses at work don’t take us seriously because we don’t come with the wife and two kids package. All that must change. But more than anything, I hope and pray that more members of the LGBTQ community, especially the ones who can afford to do so, come out. Now is the time to begin a dialogue with society. It is the only way we can conquer the prejudice and change the stereotypes ingrained in their minds.
‘I wanted to be a teacher but schools would have fired me’
— Anurag Kalia | 25, IIT graduate and software engineer, Bengaluru
Section 377 meant I couldn’t choose the job I wanted. I wanted to be a teacher but at most schools I would have been fired if I had disclosed my sexuality. Fortunately, as a software engineer, I work in MNCs that have policies that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
Growing up, I struggled with my sexuality. There was no access to information, so I didn’t know if there were other people like me.
I can’t go up to a man and ask him on a date, unlike a heterosexual person. If I do that, I’m risking physical assault. 377 forced our relationships and romantic desires to go underground. At the end of the day, my sexuality was illegal and you don’t talk about illegal things. Till 377 is repealed, nothing can change. Decriminalisation will be the first step on a long road to acceptance.
‘2013 order made me feel like an unconvicted felon’
— Pulapre Balakrishnan | 63, Economist and Professor at Ashoka University
I was 13 when I watched Omar Sharif in Dr Zhivago in a rustic movie hall in Andhra Pradesh. That clinched it. I knew I was gay. But through boarding school and at JNU there was never any question of coming out. Despite the fact that I was in a very liberal environment at Cambridge for over 10 years, it was not until I was 31 that I was able to come out after I had landed my first job, teaching at Oxford.
Growing up was claustrophobic. There was no one to talk to, no role models or support group. I was professionally ambitious so I was willing to suppress my other urges out of fear that coming out would wreck my career. Once I decided that I would be open about my orientation, I wrote to my mother. She wrote back saying how can you do this to us? But after the recriminations, there was one line that was remarkable: If you can’t change, your brothers and I will support you.
In 1989, I came back to India and spent six months in Delhi, which were the best of my life. Some of us started Red Rose
Society, a gay social group for men and women. Then I moved to Chennai for work. Though I never faced discrimination at work, there was a lack of companionship and absolutely no social life. What could you do on a Saturday evening?
I was upset after the 2013 Supreme Court order recriminalizing homosexuality. I was working at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, and shot off a resignation letter to my boss Bimal Jalan. In the eyes of the law, I was an unconvicted felon. He called immediately and refused to accept it. The repeal of 377 will bring equality to the table, and in one stroke take away any disadvantage that perception can cause.
‘Not just me, around 50-100m Indians will finally feel like full citizens’
— Parmesh Shahani | 42, Head, Godrej India Culture Lab
I am an honest taxpaying and law-abiding citizen. Yet, all these years, I’ve felt less than equal. As someone who deeply loves his country and considers himself a patriot, it is not a good feeling to have this law that makes me a second-class citizen. To think that the law criminalizes something as basic as who you choose to love is constitutionally and fundamentally wrong. How can loving someone be a crime?
If 377 is repealed, I will feel that I am finally being treated like an equal. I’ll feel validated, respected and included. I will finally feel like a first-class citizen. Not just me, around 50-100 million Indians will finally feel like full citizens.
I work on LGBT inclusivity at corporate workplaces, and when I talk about this on college campuses and to companies, I see that young India is fundamentally inclusive. You go to any campus and you can see that young people think it’s dumb to have anything like 377 in the year 2018. Over the years, companies too have become more inclusive.
But at every place, you get the same questions: ‘We want to be inclusive but there is 377.’ People are so afraid that they think that even if they promote LGBT inclusivity, it may be considered a crime. This is a misapprehension. 377 in no way criminalises a company that promotes LGBT inclusivity.
Today, there are already 30-40 companies in India that have adopted LGBT-friendly policies. Once 377 goes, I can guarantee that there will be a hundred more such companies that come out. I don’t think we are a homophobic country, which is why the removal of 377 will act as a big boost to these inclusion efforts.
As told to Mohua Das, Shobita Dhar, Himanshi Dhawan, Ketaki Desai, and Sonam Joshi, TNN
Source – The Times of India