Opinion | India’s victory on gay rights is a global win
Other democracies can take inspiration by showcasing India as a textbook example for reformation of archaic laws
History was created, if not corrected, last week by the Supreme Court of India, when the Constitution bench decriminalized the archaic section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. There are many moral, ethical and social dimensions to this pronouncement, which have already been discussed by the commentariat.
“Sexuality must be construed as a fundamental experience through which individuals define the meaning of their lives,” Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud observed in his judgement. The sexual manifestation of individuals is their own business and state-led intervention is unwarranted inside citizens’ bedrooms.
There are multiple positives flowing from the detailed and lengthy judgement. It was doubtless established that the penalization previously was in contravention of the fundamental civil liberties of citizens.
The judgement did not shy away from acknowledging the lapse of our society as a collective: “The veil of social morality cannot be used to violate fundamental rights of even a single individual … Section 377... has become an odious weapon for the harassment of the (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community by subjecting them to discrimination and unequal treatment.” Justice Rohintan F. Nariman rightly concluded by saying, “It is clear that Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 have all been transgressed without any legitimate state rationale to uphold such provision.”
One of the authors of this piece is a western European and a Portuguese and, as such, has always had a great fascination for India, its culture and millennial society. But this was primarily based on information from television and the internet. The truth is that he has always seen India as the most diverse and one of the most multicultural regions in the world, where, despite differences and conflicts, it was possible to create dialogue and equality between people.
Yet, as a young gay man and an LGBT activist, he was aware of the legal constraints that oppressed the community and were used to denigrate an essential human condition: The right to love freely.
When a law is unjust, it is only right to disobey and that’s what the LGBT community in India has been doing in recent decades. Creating visibility and striving for the right to love as they want without unjust or moralizing laws. Their fight has been rewarded and, as a result, more than a billion people can celebrate equality and spread victory around the world. The victory that India has achieved will not only proclaim a more just society in its own land, but also help spread a wave of hope across the world.
Changing the law is only the first step towards a longer and a more cumbersome path of reform. Changing minds and hearts is the most difficult and thankless job. This concerns us all, where the individual responsibility of each one of us is to make a difference in our collective future. This is only possible if we have hope that things can gradually be improved for the better.
Only a robust democracy like India, with its participatory institutions, can allow us to hold on to the hope for such difficult reforms.
India is the world’s largest democracy. Its strategic position influences the entire Indian Ocean as well as more than half of the world’s population. In this increasingly global and interconnected world, social justice is closely linked with economic growth and development.
This victory will help the Indian economy to flourish even more. This is effectively a decolonization of the Indian mind. When all is said and done, Indian Penal Code was envisioned and codified by the colonizers, the erstwhile British empire, in this case.
From a global citizen’s perspective, this change brought by the Indian Supreme Court is a huge victory and will be celebrated all over the world. It makes an outsider develop an even greater fascination for the wonderful country that is India and will compel them to book their first trip to make a visit. Because when India improves, the world improves with it.
LGBT rights have been one of the chief concerns of the global activist community. The judgement has opened doors to endless possibilities. Other democracies can take inspiration by showcasing India as a textbook example for reformation of archaic laws. This has to be one of the best case-studies that can be presented globally.
The decriminalization is a result of coordinated intersectional interaction of the three branches of democracy. The government consciously did not oppose this as it had in previous cases. Wisdom prevailed in the judiciary and the media supported the movement throughout its journey.
Respect for India as a progressive society and a polity with a modern outlook will exponentially increase with this step.
Having said that, we do realize that India is a multi-layered society. Conversations on same-sex marriage are still premature. The nation has accepted the latest verdict with open arms. Society has only now taken its first steps out of the closet. It will take time for further reforms in this direction. The institution of family is the cornerstone of our civilization. There is no tangible conflict between individual liberty and civilizational norms. Pre-empting anything further is not advisable as democratic societies tend to evolve with time.
Diogo Vieira da Silva and Guru Prakash are, respectively, a Lisbon-based LGBT activist and a fellow at India Foundation, New Delhi.
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