Section 377: This is what midnight of Aug 15, 1947 must've felt like, say Gay designers

Updated: Sep 07, 2018, 10:38 IST | Shweta Shiware | Mumbai

Fashion community and gay designers celebrate the freedom to act, love and dress as they bloody please

Wendell Rodricks and Gaurav Gupta
Wendell Rodricks and Gaurav Gupta

This news [Section 377 struck down by the Supreme Court] makes today almost as good as the midnight of August 15, 1947, when India gained Independence," said designer Amit Aggarwal, his equal-toned voice carrying a rare tinge of excitement, following Thursday's verdict to strike down Section 377. Married to his longtime partner Rahul Arora since 2015, Delhi-based couture designer Suneet Varma agreed.

Today is the birth of the real Independent India". Reacting to Chief Justice Dipak Misra's comment, "[Section 377 is] irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary", one of India's most prominent designers and defender of queer rights, Wendell Rodricks, said he was "delighted". "In one clean sweep, the judges showed the world that we are a new, progressive India," he said from Goa.

Suneet Varma married Rahul Arora in an NY court in 2015
Suneet Varma married Rahul Arora in an NY court in 2015

The gender narrative is far from new in the free-spirited world of Indian fashion. We have openly gay designers like James Ferreira, Aggarwal, Varma and Rodricks, and yet, Thursday's judgment sent a wave of nervous excitement among members of the fashion community. "I decided to work from home. I couldn't make it to the studio, it was all too overwhelming. Once the news was out, I checked five websites to see if I had read the verdict right. And, then it struck me that this is for real," said Mumbai-based designer Nimish Shah.

Usually vocal about social issues, whether gender rights or politics, Shah doesn't think he needs to make a point about oppression or freedom from it, via a garment collection. "Gay rights are basic, natural. Having them should be as normal as going to the supermarket. An unfair law has been thrown out. It's time to move forward," he said.

Veteran Mumbai designer James Ferreira
Veteran Mumbai designer James Ferreira

Aggarwal agrees that same sex marriage is the next landmark to fight for. "I don't want to be 80 when I can finally get legally married," he said. The New Delhi-based designer came out to his parents when he was 30. Raised in a middle-class family with traditional values, he said his father was accepting of his choice, but his mother took a while to warm up. "My father has stood by me through heartbreak and happiness. Today, my boyfriend stays at my parents' residence, and they [parents] welcome him as family member. I was lucky to have understanding folks." For Ferreira, one of Mumbai's early openly gay designers, the verdict has come 41 years after he came out to his parents.

Amit Aggarwal with Shahid Kapoor and Disha Patani at his show
Amit Aggarwal with Shahid Kapoor and Disha Patani at his show

"Today is bittersweet. My parents accepted me four decades ago, and I wish that more parents understand. I hope to see less bigotry from society against individuals of different orientations," he said, laughing that his phone had been buzzing all morning with text messages from friends who congratulated him for finally being free of the criminal tag.

"I was holding my breath when the verdict was about to be announced, and when it happened, I was laughing and crying all at once," said Varma. He married his partner in a New York court, but the SC judgment felt different altogether. "To be told you are not a criminal in your own country is experiencing a different kind of freedom."

Gaurav Gupta, New Delhi-based designer and associate member of the Fashion Design Council of India, said he was glad that India is finally catching up culturally with the rest of the world. "We are free. What should we do now?" he said, nervously giggling over the phone. For someone who identifies himself as "LGBTQAI, straight and everything in between" Gupta said that the verdict made him forget the struggles he faced while confronting his orientation. "I wept when I heard the news. The world has suddenly become a beautiful place."

Rodricks said the verdict was especially important because it's of significance to all of Indians, not just the queer. "Let's not forget that Section 377 also dictated that a straight man cannot have oral sex with a woman. All of India should be proud and happy today."

Also Read: Section 377: Tracing the history from 1861 to 2018

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