I woke up late this morning, and when I put my cellphone on, there was already a stream of messages informing me about the Delhi high court’s judgement on section 377. The first one simply said “yes”. It was a very significant “yes”, and it means that I have been smiling for 8 hours continuously now, even as I type this.
You have to realize that until yesterday, a large section of India’s citizens were living with a giant “no” hovering over their lives. Each time they looked up, they saw the shadow of this “no”, as if it was some alien machine from a Will Smith flick.
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This shadow negated who they intrinsically were. It indicated to them that just because they happened to choose to love someone who was of the same sex as them, they were criminals according to the law of their land. What if they wanted to live with this other person, openly as spouses? No. Buy property together? No way. Take their partner to the annual company conference? You must be kidding. Even if they were not in a relationship, their very desires were frowned upon. It was a gross human rights violation, and today, the court agreed.
The judgement is historical not just in its timing, but also in the words that it uses. Consider this excerpt from page 130: “If there is one constitutional tenet that can be said to be underlying theme of the Indian Constitution, it is that of ‘inclusiveness’. This court believes that Indian Constitution reflects this value deeply ingrained in Indian society, nurtured over several generations.
The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone.” Or this, from the following page: “It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.”
The judgement did not come about in isolation. Over the past two decades, there have been sustained efforts by individuals and organizations, across the legal, political, health and social spectrums and these efforts have been positively highlighted by the media. Even a light hearted film like Dostana pushed the edge in terms of the discussions it generated. But despite all these social changes, and the clear need in the country from a health perspective, previous courts had dithered, citing among other things, morality and whether India was ready for such change. What this particular judgement has done is that it has put the ball firmly back in the realm of human rights.
I don’t believe that the struggle is over, or that India will change overnight because of this judgement, and become a queer-friendly haven. But, I do believe, as I get ready to party the night away, that finally, my country is ready to accept me as an equal citizen. “Yes.” It’s a powerful feeling.
Parmesh Shahani is the author of GayBombay, and Editorial Director of Verve.