July 2, 2021 marks the twelfth anniversary of the first time the Indian judiciary recognised the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
It was on July 2, 2009 that the Delhi High Court delivered its landmark judgement of reading down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and decriminalised consensual adult same-sex relations in response to a PIL filed by the Naz Foundation.
Though the decision was subsequently challenged and overturned by the Supreme Court of India in 2013, this judicial recognition of the equal rights movement left a deep impact on the lives and psyche of the queer community in the country. It was not until 2018 that the Supreme Court reconsidered its decision. A constitutional bench headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra decriminalised same-sex relations that year. The interim period was a difficult one for the community.
The 2009 judgement prompted many youngsters to come out of the closet and to their families, remembers CEO of Humsafar Trust Vivek Anand. "The decision empowered the LGBTQ+ community and gave a voice to many sexual minorities," he recollects. However when the decision was struck down five years later, the NGO received distress calls from parents of queer children asking whether it meant that their kids could be arrested.
National Award winning filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan could be seen crying on live news when the July 2, 2009 verdict came out. He says he didn't think he would see section 377 being struck down in his lifetime. It was the court ruling that, he says, gave him the strength and the audacity to launch an LGBTQ+ film festival in the mainstream theater in the form of KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival for which he is the festival director.
According to transgender rights activist and founder member of Tweet Foundation Abhina Aher, the 2009 judgement was a huge step towards law reforms. "The Indian queer community has fought long battle towards their rights. When the section 377 verdict came from Delhi High Court it was a huge sigh of relief and at the same time it was the victory of our dreams. The Delhi High Court Judgement was historic in many ways, it was a huge step towards judicial reforms, it was respect and dignity for LGBTQI+ community who are considered invisible and it was a huge step towards civil rights integration. Delhi high court judgement was quite unique since it upheld the rights and dignity of all of us and it acknowledged that LGBTI community must be considered with equality," said Aher
For Shruta Rawat, a research manager at Humsafar Trust and a core team member of LBT group Umang, the decision came as a massive slap on the face of homophobes and transphobes. Then, a college student, she recalls a lot of hostility, stigma and shame associated with identifying as a queer person. "Even social media was full of threats, slurs and blamed homosexuality for the HIV/AIDS crisis. In such a scenario, the verdict came as a validation of my own identity," she proclaims.
Being freed of the criminal tag, people identifying as queer gained more confidence not only in their personal lives but also in other aspects of life, feels Rawat. She goes on to speak of how people now had the option to seek legal recourse if they were in difficult situations without the fear of repercussions. In this regard, she says, the judgement was akin to a window that brought in the first rays of light in a very dark room.
Anand believes that the 2009 judgement woke up the LGBTQ+ community and brought in many allies. "We gathered support from educational institutions, corporate groups and influential individuals. When we went to court in 2018, the case was very well argued. As the 2018 ruling also gave explicit directives to the Government of India to erase the stigma and prejudice, things have been changing for the better," he says.
Rangayan asserts the 2013 verdict of the Supreme Court, though a setback, didn't dampen the community's spirits; they were not willing to go back into the closets. KASHISH helped by becoming an event where the community could come together and has today emerged as a platform to incubate emerging Indian filmmakers who make films on LGBTQ+ themes, and create mainstream avenues for the same.
Rangayan says he is happy to play his part in the revolution and is ready to pass on the torch to the younger generation to carry on the fight till equal rights for all are ensured.
And, the young generation of activists seems prepared. Co-founder of Samavesh Chamber of Commerce, India's first queer centric chamber of commerce, Ashish Pandya says the 2009 ruling paved the way for inclusion, social equity and protection of rights for LGBTQIA+ community and the fight continues.
"We wish for anti-discrimination law for the community. We need to focus on inclusion at social, economic and political levels here on," shared Pandya. He believes that the idea of Tagore’s 'Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high' will steer the community to achieve more equity in the society.