Four months have passed since the Supreme Court of this country criminalized same-sex sexual relations in this country again. For the highest court, a “miniscule minority” didn’t deserve a place of dignity in this country and it led the popular, majoritarian view hold. It was met with outrage, disappointment and disbelief. If there was any chance that the Supreme Court may review its decision, that was also thwarted when the judges disposed of the review petition with just one line. A curative petition has been filed and is the last legal resort now, but the chances of a reversal remain extremely low.
As much as a setback the 11-12-13 judgement was, there has been a silver lining to it too. Much of the fight for gay rights in this country has focused on the legal front, with very little efforts being made to reach out to any political party. This has been partly because the legal path was probably the shortest one, and partly because of the homophobia prevalent in the Indian society and political parties where such a topic is met with words like “Shiva Shiva”. Even when in the past the then law minister Moily said that Sec 377 needs to be removed, the mostly negative reactions from various quarters meant that he soon had to backtrack on it.
But then, the judgement happened, and it opened a Pandora ’s Box. People, who otherwise had neutral view on the topic and chose not to speak on this “taboo” subject, also criticized it. In one shot, the judgement made homosexuality a discussion for days, and Sec 377 was trending on twitter for over two days. Newspapers to TV channels, it was everywhere and there was support pouring in too. But the greatest surprise of all was the support that the queer community started getting from political leaders. While many parties showed their homophobic self once again, a few for the first time openly came out in support of decriminalization of homosexuality in India. No one had even in their wildest dreams imagined that some of the major political parties like Congress, CPI(M) would openly favour decriminalization of homosexuality. They had for far too long thrown the ball in the SC’s court. Of course they had not opposed the Delhi HC judgement in the Supreme Court, but not opposing a judgement is not the same as speaking in support of the queer community. Other parties too were forced to take a stand, even if it meant ridiculing the queer community. A stand on either side of the fence is much better than the ambiguity that had prevailed pre-Dec ’13. The community knows now who their friends and foes are.
The cynics still say that with most opinion polls suggesting a Congress defeat, the party had nothing to lose by paying lip service at the end of its decade long rule. Yet, they fail to see that even if the support has come late, for the first time the issue has become a political one. What was more encouraging was that a young party like AAP has been more open about LGBT issues and even held a consultation with the community. These definitely are positive signs that the community should not let go.
No country in the world has achieved equal rights through mere court battles. Gay rights is a social and political battle, and not merely a legal one. Even in countries where unjust laws have been struck down, there has been overwhelming political support for the issue, along with social support. Until there is political support, any decision of the courts can be easily overturned by a homophobic government by enacting new laws, how so ever unjust they might be.
Unknowingly, Justice Singhvi through his unjust judgement, has helped gain new allies for the LGBT community, even in the political arena. While the media has gone on an overdrive to equate decriminalization of homosexuality with gay rights, that is just the first step towards gay rights. We must ensure that in the coming years, we have more than just decriminalization of homosexuality as our demand. If a BJP-led government comes to power, the next five years may be tough for the community. But we must utilize these years to build on the momentum that we have gained and not be cowed down. While 2014 elections are nearly over, we need to work towards ensuring that in 2019, more parties have LGBT rights on their manifesto and mind, and it should not be just limited to repeal of Sec 377.
Justice Singhvi, in some really queer way, we do owe you some thanks.