The tide is changing. The winds of liberty are blowing in our direction. Queer India is slowly
waking up to the taste of freedom from being chained by that remnant of the colonial piece of legislation – section 377. The jury will be out with its verdict soon. We have waited for this for way too long.
Following the reaction of the judges of the Supreme Court, I can dare say that I am optimistic about the verdict. As someone who visits television studios regularly, I can say that the conversations have changed. They have progressed.
From people wanting to have queer people jailed for life, some have moved to “it's unnatural but they shouldn't be jailed”. Even religious leaders have softened their stand. But the most unsurprising is the affirmative reaction of the political parties on television.
Let me make one thing clear, irrespective of which party was at the Centre, all the governments have failed us.
Let's first speak about the Indian National Congress party. In the 2004 elections, I had the
good fortune of being a member on a chat show on NDTV where independent candidate Meera Sanyal and Congress candidate Milind Deora were debating it out. It was a time when section 377 or homosexuality was not seen as an important issue that deserved attention. I asked if they would take a stand on issues that may be on polarised opinions like homosexuality.
Meera Sanyal didn't have to think too much before she said she stands for free will of adults to live their authentic lives. Milind Deora said that homosexual acts should be decriminalised because it affects HIV outreach. He was right. When we criminalise sexual acts, it creates a fall in reporting of those sexual acts even to the doctor.
In 2009, the Delhi High Court read down section 377 to make consensual acts between adults in private legal, while retaining section 377 for non-consensual acts. While the then law minister Veerappa Moily and Home minister Chidambaram deliberated upon a suitable response, Ghulam Nabi Azad came forth and called homosexuality a disease. Though it was a coalition government, it should be noted that all three ministers were from the Congress. However, Azad, after advocating homophobic stance, suddenly expressed a wave of sympathy. Change of heart? It should also be noted that none of them could make their mind to come out openly to support decriminalisation. Their support, if any, was not loud enough and didn't come at the appropriate time.
Ghulam Nabi Azad’s homophobia was more pronounced though and the Congress majority coalition government did little to muzzle his homophobia. They couldn't decide as a party, they were divided even within.
In 2013, the Supreme Court set aside the Delhi High Court judgment which reinstated section 377 in its original draconian form. This time, the climate was such that everyone knew that Congress was on its way out and Narendra Modi was emerging as a leader.
At this point, the Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi made historic statements in support of homosexuality and against section 377. In 2014 elections, Congress included decriminalisation of consensual sex in private between adults in their manifesto. However, when congress MP Shashi Tharoor tried bringing a bill in the Parliament for discussion, it was dismissed with loud homophobic jibes hurled at Dr Tharoor. The sad part is that even congress was not in full attendance in the Parliament when the bill was discussed. Congress let us down.
When it comes to the BJP, they have constantly shown their homophobia. With the honourable exception of Arun Jaitley, no one has had the guts to speak about the human rights that it infringes upon, everyone else has been either iffy or outright homophobic.
Dattatreya Hosabale said that homosexuality is not a crime but is immoral. I wonder if it was seen as something that should be celebrated?
Homosexuality is not a crime, but socially immoral act in our society. No need to punish, but to be treated as a psychological case.— Dattatreya Hosabale (@DattaHosabale) March 18, 2016
Rajnath Singh has been vocally homophobic. and so has been Yogi Adityanath. Ram Madhav, reiterated Hosabale’s stand.
@swapan55 377 is about unnatural relationship. There can be a debate over d Section as proposed by BJP.— Ram Madhav (@rammadhavbjp) December 16, 2013
In the meantime, the government made its homophobic stand clear at the UN by voting against providing spousal benefits for LGBT persons in the UN.
So in effect, neither the BJP nor the Congress can claim credit for anything positive that is
happening in the realm of gay rights legally.
The Congress woke up way too late and they did too little when they could have created more impact. And the BJP is just opportunistic and wants to jump on the bright side right now, considering the very progressive statements made by the jurists. If the BJP really was with the LGBT community, they could have supported Shashi Tharoor in his bill. They shot it down before any discussion. They could have
raised the issue in Parliament. Since they are in majority they didn't have to bother about views of coalition parties.
While it is delightful to see the troika of RSS, BJP and Congress fight with each other for credit, the
truth is that the politics of our nation failed us. It is the constitution, the legal fraternity, and
we, the affected people, who stood up for our cause. The government failed us.
(The author is an LGBT rights activist. Views are personal.)