Bad news! On December 11, 2013, Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Good news! Satyamev Jayate Season 2 has a topic for its first episode. But if you’re an Indian homosexual, congratulations, you’re not a person, you’re a criminal.
Section 377 states that “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine”. That’s outrageous. If you have gay sex, you could go to prison for 10 years, unless you can prove that you are Sanjay Dutt, in which case, three days should do it. More galling to gay Gujaratis everywhere, you also have to pay a fine.
First, some context. Section 377 was first laid down by Lord Macaulay in 1861, when he said, “The sun will never go down on the Raj, though last night, my friend Cedric did, and I was most appalled. Tea?” Never mind that the British decriminalised homosexuality 46 years ago, we’ve still stuck with their ancient law with the dogged enthusiasm of an engineer on his fourteenth IIT attempt. On the bright side, the corollary to that is that it must also mean that it’s still okay to call Mumbai Bombay.
The legality of gay sex has come up several times in India’s legal history, most famously in the 1926 case of Khanu vs Emperor, when a Lahore court decreed, “It is an unnatural offense to name cases after Mortal Kombat boss fights.” However, it’s important to recognise that the SC hasn’t technically made homosexuality illegal.
They’ve just said that the old law that made it so, is still constitutionally sound. In the greatest piece of trolling since the invention of the Rickroll, the SC also said that it is for the Parliament to decide whether to amend 377 or not, meaning that we now have to rely on our government to do the one thing it is not very good at; working for the good of the people of India.
In an important first step though, political parties have responded to the judgment. The Congress has condemned the ruling and so has the Aam Aadmi Party. The BJP remained unavailable for comment, however, mostly because evolution hasn’t yet created gay people in the primordial soup in which the BJP still lives.
My heart goes out to the Indian gay community, from where it will no doubt return with a sharper dress sense and better listening skills. If you laughed at that joke, you should be ashamed of yourself, because that’s exactly the sort of stereotyping the LGBT community is fighting against. Because if we’re going to stand for gay rights, a good first step would be to understand who exactly these people are, instead of reducing them to a series of ticks and clichés.
Some arguments suggest that homosexuality isn’t a part of the Indian culture. Well, neither was the Gold iPhone 5S until three weeks ago, but try getting your hands on one today. Besides, if you only offer the right to a free and full life to people validated by your culture, the people aren’t the problem, your culture is. Forget being gay, it’s hard enough being a straight person in support of gay rights. “Why do you care so much?” ask the mouth-breathers. “Are you gay as well?” What a magnificent argument! Because protecting the environment must mean I’m a tree.
Besides you may think gay rights don’t concern you, but an intolerance of homosexuality also points to a truth that is sadder than the end of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak; the heart is not allowed to want what the heart wants in this country. You want a baby girl? Tough. You’re a man in love with a man? Perish the thought. You want to spend your life with someone from another caste? We’ll honour kill you so you can spend your death with them instead. As the Beatles famously said, “All you need is heterosexual, caste-compliant, gotra-friendly love.”
There’s a part of me that wants to say, “Gay people, we’ve got your back. Be who you are, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” But another part of me recognises that even this is just me sounding condescending, offering you a validation you shouldn’t have to ask from anyone. Either way, let the court say what it wants. You don’t live in that courtroom, so there’s no reason you need to feel like you’re on trial every day. I wish I could promise you it gets better, but I don’t know that it will. Unless you can prove that you’re Sanjay Dutt.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi