I am not a criminal. I smile as I say these words to myself. I laugh. I am elated. I shudder in disbelief. I pinch myself. Just like that. One moment I was. Now I am not.

I am not a criminal. What relief. Funny that, because I’ve lived all my adult life with this psychological thorn deep somewhere in my consciousness. A nagging thorn, for the most part ignored, but always there. And its presence has had side effects: shame, fear, guilt, self doubt, duplicity, ridicule, violence, self hate, cowardice, dishonesty.

It has festered, cocooned itself in secrets, lies, cover ups, subterfuges, deceits, silences, depressions, disconnections, despair, lies and untruths. Even after ‘coming out’ to near and dear ones over 25 years ago, the psychological wound played itself out, shaping my relationships, my choices, my being. I come from a privileged, liberal family and social background. I’ve been lucky that way, and so have lived as if the thorn wasn’t there. But it was there. And its presence was a silent handicap. And now it’s gone. What relief.

What joy to feel truly free in India, the country of my birth, and where I choose to live and work. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is the silver lining we’ve been waiting to see in these troubled times, when many threats to our freedoms rumble around us like darkening clouds. And while there is much to be alarmed about what is happening in the country, this moment is one of hope.

At long last I am free from the fear of just being myself. Not just me and the millions of LGBTQ citizens out there, but every citizen of the land. By focusing on constitutional morality and not social morality this verdict firmly takes the State out of our bedrooms. Straight or gay, we are now free to love whom we please, as we please. Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus and a multiplicity of positions and sexual situations are now legal in this land. Penises and vaginas are no longer straight-jacketed. Mouths and anuses are no longer second class orifices. My body and yours are free to contort without restrictions when expressing love. About time!

So, what next? Personally, it’s time to reflect and renew. In some sense heal into this idea of normalcy. To continue to pursue goals, resurgent. Get on with life, no looking back.

And for those just starting out, it’s an exhilarating time to be themselves. Time to seize the moment, and build one’s life sans baggage. I hope people will come out in droves to be seen in society. Awakenings.

The lives we can now imagine for ourselves, equal under the Constitution, require our representatives to legislate new laws. Laws that will recognize our partnerships, our modern families, so that we truly become equal and able to live meaningful, complete lives. The judiciary has knocked down the barriers. It’s Parliament’s job now to make us whole. I have little confidence in the spineless and hypocritical lot who presently occupy seats in Parliament; passing the buck doesn’t cut it. We need confident fresh faces and modern minds leading us. Brothers and sisters, voters at large, we will need your support to shift public opinion and elect representatives who will do the right thing. Justice for all.

The urban gay scene in India today in many ways resembles what the West went through 50 years ago. This verdict is our Stonewall moment and we must build on it. We must claim and occupy what’s rightfully ours in the marketplace, the workplace, the family, and the virtual spaces that are a part of globalized, modern reality.

There is a Pink Rupee and may it appreciate. The entrepreneurial, ‘Make In India’ mood in the land is ours too. Our new-found freedom empowers us to achieve excellence and become our best, unfettered by doubt. Now we can navigate the corporate ladder, or create and run businesses that serve the market, without fear of discrimination. Our talent is in demand. We are a niche in our own right. Brands court us, and woo our wallets. We must not be shy to play the game. Openly with pride. Without fear. It is a very celebratory, euphoric time right now, but this mood will pass and we will be back to our day to day lives. It is there that we will be tested. It is there that we will face a push back. And so we must also equip ourselves to not be put down. The verdict is words on paper, but a ground reality will act itself out in our homes, our offices and public spaces. We must be ready to defend these hard won rights.

Already, alongside the celebrations and congratulations my WhatsApp feed has also seen crude, crass homophobic ‘humour’ as circulated on groups. In such situations, the fear and silence that I have become so used to experiencing, kicks back in. Do I object, do I raise my hands to insist on being treated with respect, or do I remain silent? The verdict empowers us to fight back now, without fear of self incrimination. How do we navigate those confrontations when they arise?

ALSO READ | Life after Section 377

Situations and practicality will demand different responses, but silence is no longer one of them. The only way to begin changing mindsets is through conversation and speaking up. And there are many conversations that we need to have. Let’s talk more about sex and love, not less. Let’s talk more about our bodies and health, not less. Let’s educate ourselves about others, and develop the ability to see things from a different angle and become more accepting. Let’s talk about the risks and consequences of our behaviour. Let us stop scurrying about in secret. Let us be present and ensure changes take root. Let us create a vibrant, authentic future for ourselves and live it out of the shadows, for all to see.

It’s time. To be free!

(Roy Sinai lives and works in Bengaluru. He divides his time between making photographs, performing on stage, consulting with small businesses and mentoring young people.)

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