Fighting the better fight

Published: Sep 07, 2018, 07:10 IST | Vikram Phukan | Mumbai

The verdict sets the stage for larger legal and social gambits

Members and supporters of the LGBT community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Bangalore. Pic/AFP
Members and supporters of the LGBT community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Bangalore. Pic/AFP

Vikram PhukanIf one might invoke mythology, the Supreme Court verdict is the ambrosia that has brimmed to the surface from a veritable churning of the ocean. It has been distilled by the collective efforts of strong forces of opposition, the toxic halāhala of the continual setbacks over a protracted legal struggle of almost 30 years now left in the mist. Jubilation is deserved and has been rightly earned by not only those who fronted the movement and the legal challenge, but everyone else for whom an inclusive world is not just a radical idea but a social imperative that must be guaranteed.

The verdict is a maelstrom that sets the stage for a much larger social and legal gambit, and the process of change is slow and arduous, just as achieving this first milestone has been. As a case in point, the United Kingdom, whose draconian laws clog our statute books, struck down its version of the ‘sodomy law’ in 1967, and it took 40 years more for same-sex civil partnerships to be recognised, paving the way to legalising gay marriage, with all its official and religious connotations.

Considering India is a huge and relatively young democracy that has been thrown headlong into the civil rights movement, progress may arrive at a quickened pace. Even religiously conservative countries like Ireland now have a gay Prime Minister (Leo Varadkar, of Indian stock), so emboldened voices within the community can gather cultural capital in accelerated fashion now that the ‘criminal’ tag has been expressly removed.

Once the dust has settled, other milestones not yet secured by law beckon — legal frameworks for gay marriage and adoption, or tougher anti-discrimination laws. Marriage, in a legal and cultural sense, is intricate. There are personal laws governing ritual and inheritance, rights of financial nomination, hospital visitation rights et al; civil liberties that mainstream identities take for granted, which are not usually extended to sexual minorities, against whom an entire system is skewed. It’s not as if our rights warriors are not upto this gargantuan task. Section 377 was dismantled by a concerted effort by lawyers, scholars and activists well versed with legal minutiae and the requisite social and political manoeuvering required to push through with a landmark judgement like yesterday’s.

The future is almost tantalisingly utopian. For instance, consider Indian wfamily structures in which same-sex couples have pride of place, and are thought of as nurturing as any other parenting setup. However, while adoption laws will need to be amended and clarified, the gateway to surrogacy will open another can of worms.

Changes in societal attitudes take place glacially, untouchability was abolished in 1950, but glaring social inequalities persist to this day. For the word of law to percolate down to the populace takes time, but the 2009 Delhi High Court verdict had prepared the ground for gay acceptance somewhat even if it was egregiously overturned in 2013. However, it was that blip that might have strengthened the resistance that allowed us to fight the better fight.
The writer is a stage critic
As told to Hemal Ashar

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