The Road to Change after the Reading Down of IPC 377

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On September 6th, 2018, the Supreme Court decriminalised a colonial law, part of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. It was revised, giving an assured voice to the LGBTQI+ community across India through the now ceremonious Navtej Johar v Union of India case. The judgment states in its introduction, ‘and the sustenance of identity is the filament of life.’ Those who identify as homosexual or gender non-binary were recognised by the Indian law, creating space finally, for freedom, individuality, and choice.

Article 14 (equality before law), Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth), Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression, and to form associations or unions) and Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution of India were all fundamental rights upheld by impositions made by Menaka Guruswamy in court as being violated with the criminalisation of homosexuality and gender non-binary relationships. Before this judgment, however, the exasperating decision and descent of human rights in the landmark ruling of Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation in 2013, the law was upheld and the Supreme Court bench reached a verdict that Section 377 of the IPC did not suffer from ‘constitutional infirmity’. This was followed-up in January of 2018 when the Supreme Court stated that the previous judgments would be reconsidered.

Who were the petitioners?

The petitioners from the apex court were dancer Navtej Jauhar, journalist Sunil Mehra, chef Ritu Dalmia, hoteliers Keshav Suri and Aman Nath, business executive Ayesha Kapur, and 20 current and former students of the Indian Institutes of Technology around India. One of the petitioners, a former student of IIT Kharagpur,  Keerthana P G Gopalakrishnan discussed her motivations for becoming a petitioner due to the harassment of her LGBTQ friend faced at college. The reality of many LGBTQ Indian students moving abroad as a result of their sexuality was also a point Keerthana mentioned with concern. Pravritti, a pan IIT informal LGBTQ group has played a vital role for the students, alumni, and staff by creating a safe network for people to share and discuss the many challenges of being LGBTQI+ in India.

The voice of the future

The future is filled with hope, however, the youth and the generations after will be the most affected with institutional changes that damage our sense of freedom. Keerthana, also mentioned how the culmination of student voices from the IITs led to them crowdsourcing money for their lawyers Dr. Menaka Guruswamy, Pritha Srikumar, and Arundhati Katju. The collective voice of these IIT petitioners who were all below the age of 30 demonstrated how far-reaching the stigmatisation of being from the LGBTQ+ community is and how the hour of necessity has passed and evolved into a phase of emergency.

After decriminalization of Section 377

Queer activists in the country such as Harish Iyer and others have been the vocalising forces for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India and have carried out awareness campaigns and advocacy attempts. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently appointed a core group on LGBT+ issues. It includes gay rights activist- Ashok Row Kavi, transgender rights activist- Gouri Sawant, Naz Foundation Founder- Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, Anjali Gopalan, and Harish Iyer. The group aims to aid inclusivity in existing government policies and laws, suggesting changes suitable to the LGBTQ community.

The recent effort- Pink List is a wonderful resource for awareness related to candidacy. It is an assemblage of Lok Sabha candidates who support LGBTQI+ rights. In a recent interview with the Verve magazine, Anish Gawande poignantly states their inspiration behind creating the Pink List “There’s a massive transformation underway in India’s queer political landscape today. Yet, there’s very little work that’s being done around cataloging and archiving this transformation”. The homepage of Pink List India exclaims that ‘We need to build a network of politicians across party lines to make queer issues a political imperative. Because our fight does not end after 377’. Our path towards an inclusive country and community has just begun and with more implementation and conscious institutional shifts our fundamental freedom would become easier to exercise openly.

Eventually, we need to build a network of politicians across party lines to make queer issues an important natural imperative. Our fight does not end with the reading down of Section 377. Community sensitization efforts, liberal school curriculums, and workplace systems ensuring queer rights need to be formulated and upheld. The verdict reached in 2018 was revolutionary and much needed no doubt, but the path ahead has many more challenges to be overcome and work to be done.

Manogni T is an Editorial Intern at One Future Collective.

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