The Love Issue | Sealed with a kiss
Letters, postcards and video messages—can these help the anti-LGBT crowd, judges and lawyers get a glimpse into the lives of this so-called ‘minuscule’ community?
The subject of Mumbai-based Harish Iyer’s letter to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is intriguing. Iyer, an event manager and equal rights activist who is listed at No.71 in the World Pride Power List 2013, says the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) rejection of the Delhi high court order on Section 377 in December means he has to find not just a suitable job but also a suitable bride.
He puts it out there “straight” in his letter: “Since making love to someone in my own gender is a crime, I shall live a lovelorn life. I do have the option of getting married to a woman and trying to have sex with her every night. Since marital rape still is not a crime in our country, I might as well make best of the law being on my side, and keep trying penal-vaginal sex with her in the order of nature. Someday I may just succeed even if her rights as a woman get ruined completely. And genders other than female, well, they are way too minuscule to be taken seriously.” He goes on to request the CJI to help him find “a suitable bride and a suitable job”.
“These letters are a testimony of how people feel about Section 377. We wanted to do something to mark the first month anniversary of the SC’s rejection (on 11 December) of the Delhi high court order and the idea to send letters to the SC came from one of our members, Mayur Suresh. We put it out on our mailing list and our Facebook page and the letters started coming in,” says L. Ramakrishnan, country director of the public health NGO SAATHII (Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India) and a volunteer at Orinam.
Suresh says a friend and he were discussing how the SC had taken up cases previously based on letters, and that’s where the idea came from. “I hope people continue to write to the SC because these letters serve as a platform for the LGBT community to tell judges about their lives. Maybe at some point they will be useful in court, maybe nothing will happen. But these letters should have a cathartic effect for the people who write them because a letter is a personal tool for communication and hopefully, a way to reach out to a friend, a well-wisher, i.e. the SC, and let it know that you have been hurt by their decision,” says Suresh, an activist and a lawyer based in London, UK.
Dolly Koshy, a Bangalore-based IT professional and co-founder of MIST who wrote her letter at the party, believes the SC’s refusal to review the decision may work out in the long run. “At least the LGBT community is realizing that staying in the closet will not help their case. They will be considered a minuscule community and hence not given the rights they are seeking. More people have to come out, assert and ask for their rights, and these letters are just another step,” says Koshy.
With the SC rejecting the review petition on 28 January, some of the people who have written these letters feel there is no point in continuing. “I had written the letter and even sent a copy to the attorney general who was representing the government of India because I was told maybe he could use it, but now I do not think sending letters makes sense. We need different platforms, and continuous and real support from within and outside the LGBT community. We need more popular icons from films and sports to speak up,” says National Award-winning film director Onir, whose letter to the SC talks about how the nation now criminalizes his identity and why religion and laws should not interfere in a private sexual relationship between two consenting adults.
“I will continue to send postcards to the SC even though they have rejected the petition. But I know that other smaller activities to raise awareness about the importance of the rejection of the petition must also continue. That’s why we organize small ‘freeze mobs’—tableaus of how the LGBT community is treated and can be treated—across Bangalore. At one of our freeze-mob events, it was heartening to hear a mother explain to her four-year-old son what being gay means and why a man loving a man is about love and not something to be attacked. Our next mob is on 11 February, the second month anniversary of the rejection of the Delhi high court order,” says Konnur.
Iyer’s boss Aradhana Ray Vermani, a Mumbai-based experiential communications consultant who has never participated in protest marches or queer parades, says she could not stop herself from writing a letter to the SC. “All I said in my letter was that who wants to have intercourse with whom is a choice that should be left to individuals as long as it does not harm anyone. And how can one group decide what is natural and what is unnatural? People are born this way and being gay does not make one less natural than heterosexual. My letter was a moderate outburst and I hope more people will adopt this form of protest,” says Vermani.
Iyer, who received some flak for the sarcastic overtone of his SC/Orinam letter on Facebook, says that even if the letters have no positive legal fallout, it is important to keep the dialogue going with the CJI and the apex court. “We need to harp on this for years to come. Maybe the mindset of some judges will change and the next generation will benefit.”
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