New Delhi: India made history. After 160 years of subjugation and criminalisation, the over two million strong LGBTQ community of India today can breathe and love freely.]
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra termed the part of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which crimiminalises unnatural sex as irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary.
End to stigma
“It is going to be the end of an era of discrimination and humiliation of our people,” said Manavendra Singh Gohil, better known as Prince Manavendra, the world’s first openly gay member of royalty.
Follow live updates for Supreme Court's verdict on Decriminalising gay sex today.
Speaking to News18, the prince said that abolishing the law, often cited as ‘draconian’ and ‘imperial’, was long overdue. “Enough members of the LGBTQ community have suffered due to this criminalisation. Making someone’s sexual preference in bed a crime is not just unfair, it’s also unconstitutional according to the fundamental rights we are ensured as Indian citizens,” he said.
Being the first and only ‘gay royal’ in India made him the media’s darling. But the prince says that his privilege was also a curse. “My family disowned me after I came out to the world. It was not because I was homosexual, they knew about that for years. They only reacted when I told the world,” Manavendra told News18.
When Manavendra came out to the world in 2016, it created a media flurry and effigies of the him were burnt in Rajpipla, where according to his own admission, “people worshipped them” as role models. He was even heckled by villagers when he went to the small town.
According to the prince, who is the only son and probable heir to Raghubir Singhji Rajendrasinghji Sahib, Maharana of Rajpipla in Gujarat, it was the stigma attached to the idea of homosexuality that made them disown him and not his sexual preference. Laws like Section 377 help maintain the stigma by criminalising homosexuality.
In technicality, Section 377 did not criminalise homosexuality per se, but the act of ‘unnatural sex’ or non peno-vaginal coitus. But that, according to Manavendra, who runs a charity called Lakshya Trust to work with the LGBTQ community, it criminalised a core aspect of an individual’s being – the right to love.
Manavendra felt that the change will help more queer people to come out and more parents to accept their children's sexual identity, which is no longer criminal.
Legal rights, even marriage?
The LGBTQ community will also be seeing a surge in demands for rights, both legal and social.
Supreme Court advocate and co-founder of Lawyers Collective (LC) Anand Grover, who has for years been at the forefront of the LGBTQ legal movement in India and was representing Naz Foundation in the case, said that decriminalisation would surely open up more space for the LGBTQ in the private sector.
Grover, who is the director of the HIV/AIDS unit of LC, clarified that decriminalising Section 377 does not necessarily mean acceptance of homosexuality. He does believe, however, that the verdict, which he is sure would be positive, would help the community to start a dialogue and usher in a new era where the community can demand further rights with respect to equality, discrimination and even marriage, though the last would still take a long time.
Interestingly, Grover said that decriminalising 377 would also lead to a discussion regarding the country’s rape laws, which are currently gender specific in terms of who the victim and perpetrator could be. So far, Section 377 was hitherto used to deal with sexual crimes against men (and also women). But it also made consensual non peno-vaginal sex illegal. Decriminalising Section 377 would finally bring to the light the prevalence of male rape and may help usher in laws that protect men, gay, straight or trans, from sexual assault.
Strengthening of transgender bill
The senior advocate, who has been fighting the battle for LGBTQ rights for over 20 years now, also touched upon the importance of the decision on the transgender community, that continues to be persecuted under the law, despite the Supreme Court granting them legal status four years ago (Rights of Transgender Persons Bill 2014).
Speaking to News18, transgender activist Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi agreed. "The biggest problem with the Transgender bill was that it did not do away with section 377. Many transgenders continued to be persecuted under it," she said.
Now with a transperson's sexual identity secured, Laxmi felt that the community could now move to wider aspects of equality in terms of seeking reservations in educational and private sector jobs.