Last night while I was about to wind-up for the day, I received an invite on Facebook from my friends at The Humsafar Trust – to come watch the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 from 10.30 in the morning – the time I usually catch the first of my three trains to office. I remember thinking to myself on the way back that one way or another, the verdict would make history, as did my friends – straight and gay alike. Given the iconic date (11/12/13) and the fact that one of the judges presiding over the hearing was going to retire tomorrow, the case was sure to be a flashbulb memory in the minds of everyone. I remember thinking on my way back that the verdict would in most likelihood officially endorse the landmark Delhi High Court judgment of 2009 – a judgment that changed so many lives. I wondered, ‘Would the celebrations be as euphoric as the last time, or would a muted sense of relief prevail?’ The nagging thought about how the judiciary in India has a tendency to deliver complete shockers, seen as recently as the Talwar verdict, remained with me all night. But surely, the Supreme Court would uphold the Right to Liberty over arguments as atrocious as ‘homosexuality will lead to the spread of cancer and AIDS’. It all seemed like an open-and-shut case, a mere formality awaiting the Apex Court’s seal of approval.
For a change, I was at office today much earlier than when I start my journey on a usual day. The tweets had started to trickle in by the morning, some of them mine. And then around 10.30 AM, for the second time in as many months, a tweet popped up on my screen, completely contrary to all that I had hoped for. I sat at my desk, feeling horrible, as the tweets began to flow – most outraged at the verdict, while others (the Blue Virus recruits of the right-wing social media) being completely ecstatic.
Now, why, you may ask is this such a personal issue for me? It’s not the first time I have been asked why I care about gay rights, why I chose to do my voluntary internship at a gay organization, why I say that being gay is not abnormal when I am not gay? And so on and so forth. The point is not my sexual orientation, the point is that of equality. Our right-wing politicians don’t shy away from pointing out the ills of ‘Western influence’. But here they are, rejoicing over a Supreme Court verdict reinstating a law the British instituted, at a time when the British themselves have legalized not only homosexual acts, but also same-sex marriages. The VHP with all its dreams of a Hindu rashtra fails to see that the only country in the world which officially recognizes Hinduism as the state-religion not only considers homosexuality legal, but also held its first gay pageant last month. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board which welcomed the verdict with great fervor, seem to overlook the fact that a country like Kazakhstan with 70% of its population being Muslim considers same-sex sexual activity as legal. And would someone remind the Christian organizations that protested the decriminalization of Sec 377 that Pope Francis himself said “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” I expect nothing from the likes of Baba Ramdev or Subramanian Swamy who chose to ignore what the DSM, for all its flaws, recognized as early as 1973. They would probably consider it a disease no matter who said it.
But the point was never about morality, was it? The point was about consent. And consent, it seems, is a concept our country does not very clearly understand. So while the government ignores the Uniform Civil Code and says that is okay with the fact that a girl under the age of 18 can marry under ‘Personal laws’, it also raises the age for consensual sex to 18. And the same Parliament which passed the POCSO Act – a landmark gender-neutral act that criminalizes sexual offences of any kind against both boys and girls under the age of 18, is likely to not decriminalize consensual sex between two same-sex partners within the privacy of a bedroom for a long long time to come.
India and Russia have had a cordial relationship over the years, with Russia often throwing behind its ‘Superpower’ weight behind us when our neighbours and the United States have tried to outmuscle us. But on this count, I am afraid, Russia was more ‘third-world’ than we were, at least until last night. As of today, we join the revered ranks of Afghanistan, Uganda and Saudi Arabia which punish consensual homosexual acts more strongly than we punish unwelcome sexual advances towards women. Hell even Russia criminalizes gay propaganda not, private gay sex, as farcical as that stand may be.
A day after World Human Rights Day, and the funeral of one of the biggest champions of equality the world has ever seen, which brought together the leaders of the world; and three days after a historical debut by Aam Aadmi Party rekindled people’s faiths in the power of democracy, the Supreme Court has set us back today, by centuries. The fight, most certainly will go on, as it must, but I’ll go to bed today a lot more cynical about this country than I did last night.