“I am what I am. So take me as I am.”
- Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra
Members of the LGBTQ community, gay rights activists and allies waited with bated breath for the Supreme Court of India hearing to commence on a law that has stripped LGBTQ folk of their basic dignity and fundamental rights for decades. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook were buzzing hours before the final hearing began. Over the course of four days, the five-member Constitutional Bench heard arguments for decriminalising homosexuality -- and it was nothing short of hair-raising. In this article, Jyotsna George, Gender at Sexuality Campaigns Manager at Jhatkaa tells us more in this insightful piece from the ground in India
On September 6th, 2018, India’s Supreme Court read down the 16th-century British colonial law Section 377 that criminalized consensual homosexual relations. Through this historic judgment, not only did India’s highest court pronounce gay sex legal but also recognised the stigma and discrimination that the Indian LGBTQ community has faced as a direct result of this archaic law.
This landmark judgment validates sexual autonomy as an intrinsic part of an individual’s privacy, as enshrined within and protected by the Indian Constitution.
What made the case for advancing LGTBQ rights stronger was the fact that the petitioners (a mix of seasoned gay rights activists, artists, entrepreneurs, college students) shared personal stories of mental illness and emotional distress caused by the discrimination, blackmail and abuse they have faced.
For the first time, the Supreme Court of India recognised the constitutional right to a life of dignity and privacy for members of the LGBTQ community, just like any other citizen. In its judgment, the Court also identified critical areas of support like access to healthcare, sensitisation of government service officials towards LGBTQ identities, plus a directive to mental health professionals to discard regressive notions of queer identities and proactively provide service to the LGBTQ community.
This has opened the gates for tackling deep-rooted problems of acceptance and prejudice around the LGTBQ community. In the aftermath of the verdict, there has been a surge in the conversation - both online and offline, especially on University campuses - around understanding and discarding the common stereotypes associated with the LGBTQ community.
We at Jhatkaa.org, in collaboration with All Out, will be rolling out an online ads campaign targeted at changing the conversation around queerness: Our objective, through our billboard campaign, is to use this critical occasion of the decriminalisation of homosexuality to shift the perception around queerness in Indian society. By placing bold and compelling billboard advertisements across key locations in New Delhi in the aftermath of this historic judgement, we aim to drive the conversation towards acceptance and normalisation of queerness in India.
Youth collectives have taken initiative in organising grassroots awareness and educational activities in public spaces across major Indian cities. Twitter and Instagram are buzzing with powerful stories of coming out, how to be responsible allies, acceptance, building safe spaces for working through mental illness issues - it is incredibly inspiring to witness the force with which the conversation around LGBTQ rights has kicked off in the weeks following the historic Supreme Court judgment. And this is only an indication of the long journey ahead towards true inclusion and advancing of equal rights.
Jyotsna George, Gender & Sexuality Campaigns Manager, Jhatkaa.org
(Photo credit: Vaishnavi Suresh)