Another ugly chapter in the struggle for human rights

Published: 12 December, 2013 07:53 IST | Vikram Phukan |

Far from taking a progressive step into the future, the Supreme Court has reinforced all that is reactionary and oppressive about India's attitude towards homosexuality

What could have been an interesting moniker to commemorate an epoch-making ruling, 11-12-13, will instead go down in history as a black day that marks the commencement of another ugly chapter in the struggle for human rights in the self-styled ‘largest democracy in the world’.

Members of the LGBT community protesting against the judgment at Humsafar Trust in Mumbai yesterday. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

At Mumbai’s Azad Maidan on Wednesday morning, a trickle of early visitors had trudged in with rainbow flags, balloons, banners and loads of joie de vivre to celebrate what they had imagined would be a favourable verdict in the Section 377 case that was being tried for more than four years in India’s Supreme Court, even if the sporadic hearings wouldn’t have accounted for more than a month of deliberations in all that time.

Within minutes, as the news of the order filtered in, the picnic outing was transformed into a site of outrage, protest and overriding disbelief. The balloons reading ‘Sec377’, instead of being gracefully let into the sky, were burst in front of media cameras eager to capture (however ephemerally) the symbolic puncturing of the hopes and aspirations of the estimated hundred million people who represent the queer population of this country.

Trust betrayed
The turn of events is the handiwork of a two-judge bench, including the outgoing Justice Singhvi, who in his final day in office has in one fell swoop undone the good work of more than ten years of litigation. Very quickly, queer activists have anointed him a hate figure who has betrayed the trust of multitudes of Indians. There is some legal recourse, as a review petition against the order can still be filed, but nine times out of ten, that results in an upholding of the verdict already delivered.

More gallingly, the order appears to pass the buck to the Indian parliament to officiate on the matter, abdicating all social responsibility, flying in the face of the recent examples of judicial zeal that has seen the apex court take aggressive stands in several other matters of national importance — a strange dichotomy that points to a deep-seated conservatism.

Hearteningly, the response on social media channels has been tremendous, with the hashtag #Sec377 placing high on Twitter trends, alongside #LGBT and predictably, Karan Johar, who seems to have taken the comic flak in a sea of otherwise supportive messages. While the usual homophobia has been muted, several talking heads have crawled out of the woodwork to opine against gay people in television debates proving that bigotry is still alive and well in the country.

Casting a pall
While it is impossible to police the bedroom, law or no law, the ruling casts AIDS prevention activities under an immediate pall as it pushes high-risk groups further into a deeply patriarchal closet, in which the casualties have traditionally been women.

Everyone’s favourite whipping boys have been reinstated. Even heterosexual consenting adults engaging in ‘non-procreative’ sex (in which category the length and breadth of several sex manuals can be fitted) can now be booked an indication of how ridiculously archaic the Victorian-era Section 377 has always been. To a country, now given to demand social change more vociferously than ever, here is another opportunity to rally around a cause. This is what we must hope for as our hallowed institutions fail us yet again.

The writer is a playwright who runs the theatre appreciation website, Stage Impressions (

Disappointed voices
Wendell Rodricks, Fashion Designer: This is a regressive verdict that sends the future of Indian youth back to 1860. In the interim period till Parliament takes a decision, I hope the Indian public takes umbrage at this outrage and till then the Delhi High Court verdict of 2009 should stay. Laws are meant to create a better society.

Not a society that pushes gay men into marriage, ruins an innocent girl.... All for social hypocrisy. A shame India’s image as a progressive nation is restricted just to a booming economy but a regressive mindset. And why is the law of the land handing over to Parliament a decision that lawmakers and upholders should decide?

Onir, Filmmaker: I am extremely disappointed with this ruling. The Supreme Court has a tradition of upholding human rights issues and it usually does not overturn decisions taken by a high court on such issues. So, I am filled with anger and disappointment with this verdict. We all think that we have become progressive but with such a decision, we are going back to the regressive colonial times. I think it is time that people, irrespective of their sexuality, fight for this and raise a voice against this injustice.

James Ferreira, Fashion Designer: It is sad to see our country degress. This situation is sad and worrying.

- With inputs from Ruchika Kher 

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