Today, we celebrate civil liberties and we have new found wings to take flight in the equal sky. We have waited with baited breath for this moment of glory where we now weave our own story of equality. Today, we ought to remember not only that this has not come easy, but also that this has come way too late. Almost 160 years since the law was born, it has caused death and deprivation. Today on World Suicide Prevention day, we ought to remember the lives that we lost to Section 377.
Law - The Demotivating Force
As someone who speaks about issues of sexuality and abuse openly, I have been receiving an average of 10-15 calls every day for help or simply to tell their stories when they just need a pair of ears to listen. While many of these are from survivors of child sexual abuse, almost half of these calls are also about people grappling with their sexuality. While these calls had reduced between the period of 2009 and 2013, the 5 years when section 377 had been read down by the Delhi High Court, Right from 2014, these calls saw a rise. I have also had the misfortune of being the last call dialled and have had scary moments when I have been called over to police stations for recording my statement.
People engaging in sexual relationships are constantly under the radar of the law. They could be busted anytime. There is a nexus between extortionists and the police that has been explored in the film “I AM”. There have been murders and rape that have been recorded as well due to these sexual encounters that had to go underground because of this unjust law.
The Worried Kith and Kin
It is not that all families were innately homophobic. Sometimes, non-acceptance came from a point of genuine concern and fear. I spoke to a parent who exclaimed: “I accept him now, but back then, I didn't, because I didn't want my child to be arrested by the police.” The law created an element of fear in the minds of the kith and kin of queer persons. They would rather force their children to refrain from homosexuality than be arrested for it.
Men Who Are Forced Marriages
Many families have pushed homosexual men into heterosexual marriages. Men seek pleasures outside the marriage with other men. There are cases where there has been an increase in domestic violence. There is no excuse for violence. All these men should be brought to book. We should also recognise the direct co-relation between forced marriages and violence. There are also many men who commit suicide.
Women – One Of The Most Affected
Women have the worse of it. Firstly, women are married off to gay men who are in the closet and live sexless marriages or end up being treated as an experiment for men to prove how virile they are. If the woman is queer herself, she is forced to marry or is raped so that “she learns” heterosexuality.
Transgenders face ridicule. While we have a historic NALSA judgement for Transgender persons, it was only partial until section 377 was read down. Transgenders struggle for acceptance in corporate spaces and in our society at large. This results in severe cases of depression. Members of the hijra community have endured social stigma for ages. Section 377 ensured that the rights they have are not absolute, even after NALSA.
Mental Health Issues
The fact that we have to “come out” to people, makes us susceptible to three kinds of reactions. Either acceptance or rejection or being ignored. We constantly have to remember who is with us and who is not. Even people like me who are “out” have to know how “out” I could be and with whom. Our sex lives are also constantly under the radar and so is our love life. We can't sit in a garden and romance like heterosexuals.
Layers Of Discrimination
We need to recognise that the situation could get grave when a person’s life intersects with more than one minority. For instance, imagine a person who is a Dalit Muslim trans woman who is also disabled. The levels of discrimination that this person would have to fight are unimaginable.
The Political Crass
Barring a very, very few exceptions, the political class has proven to be crass. They bullied Shashi Tharoor in the parliament. They made obnoxious statements themselves or stood silently when their associates made statements. So a yoga guru could speak openly about curing homosexuality and none of his friends in the ruling party would make a statement against him or put a muzzle on his tongue. Such silence, ignorance, and shamelessness have severe repercussions. It pushes people who peep outside the closet, deep into the closet by making it certain for them that coming out is unsafe.
We have won this case lawfully, but for us to experience the fruits of this victory, we need to work at expanding every mind to the idea of equality. Today, on world suicide prevention day, let’s hope that the law has a direct effect in inspiring people to give life another chance. We have won, but our work has just begun.
(Harish Iyer is a prominent LGBTQ+ rights activist in India)