Three years ago, on July 2nd, 2009, the Delhi High Court handed down a landmark judgment, deciding that sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex would no longer be criminalised under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Today we celebrate the third anniversary of a legal freedom in India that sits at the heart of human rights and dignity: the right to love.
Various events across the country are celebrating the anniversary of the Delhi High Court judgment. On July 1st, 2012, under the umbrella of the Delhi Queer Group and in coordination with the Pehchan North Region Office (PNRO), a silent candlelight vigil brought together lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community members and organisations near India Gate—one of the capital’s most prominent monuments—to mark this milestone.
During the vigil, I was interviewed by a reporter from the Hindustan Times, and she kept asking me, “What change do you see in society, post the judgment? Do you see acceptance towards members of your community in general society?” It wasn’t an unusual question for me to answer, but as I did, the past three years flashed before my eyes. I tried to gather incidents that would offer a full picture of the changes the judgment has brought to my community, to broader society, and of course to those near and dear to us, our families. I vividly remember the Delhi High Court’s progressive judgment being stridently opposed by every hue of religious fundamentalists—in a rare if misguided display of religious unity—as they proclaimed that we are “diseased” and that our lives and desires go against “Indian culture.”
But these are not the images that stick in my mind. Rather, more affirming images stick with me: families showing public support for their LGBT children; smiling faces of people at LGBT Pride rallies in states across India showing their pride; and young queer people coming out, demanding their rights and expressing themselves openly. Increasingly, we see visibility of lesbians and transgender/hijra community members. There is much that is encouraging, that can give us hope. There is no doubt that the LGBT community has made a mark on society since the 377 judgment, but real acceptance in India is still a long journey that we have yet to take. A single legal decision cannot by itself bring attitudinal changes in a country the size of ours.
The work is not finished. Real change will require even more LGBT community members coming out, to themselves and to society. Policy makers, the media, and the public do not yet embrace the LGBT community or even support equality. The legal case continues too; the section 377 case is now being heard in India’s Supreme Court. Nonetheless, India has made great progress. There are other countries around the world with similar laws from British colonials days that make homosexuality illegal. Sodomy offences promote violence and allow for blackmail and abuse, often destroying people’s lives. Criminalisation makes it difficult for HIV services to reach sexual minorities or involve them in health promotion and HIV prevention. Please watch Alliance India’s video Reading Down 377: Securing the Right to Love, which explains the story of why and how community activists lobbied to get Section 377 overturned in India.
Other events today are part of this continued effort to gather much needed support from society and stakeholders to help ensure a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court and show the growing commitment toward reducing homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in general society. Our Pehchan partner, The Humsafar Trust, is celebrating, today, in Mumbai with a campaign called “Raise Your Rainbow” and a Queer Azaadi Mumbai (QAM) event at their Drop-In Centre at Vakola from 6-9pm, which includes a slide show on queer Pride, a screening of the film 365 without 377—a documentary on the first year after the ruling—and performances from some of Mumbai’s most fabulous dancing queens.
The author of this post, Abhina Aher, is Programme Manager for Alliance India’s Pehchan Programme.
With support from the Global Fund, Pehchan builds the capacity of 200 community-based organisations (CBOs) for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgenders and hijras in 17 states in India to be more effective partners in the government’s HIV prevention programme. By supporting the development of strong CBOs, Pehchan will address some of the capacity gaps that have often prevented CBOs from receiving government funding for much-needed HIV programming. Named Pehchan which in Hindi means ‘identity’, ‘recognition’ or ‘acknowledgement,’ this programme is implemented by India HIV/AIDS Alliance in consortium with Humsafar Trust, SAATHII, Sangama, and SIAAP and will reach 453,750 MSM, transgenders and hijras by 2015. It is the Global Fund’s largest single-country grant to date focused on the HIV response for vulnerable sexual minorities.