Section 377- let us take a huge breath before we jump into this. You ready? Good. For those of you who are not sure what Section 377 really is, and why it matters, you’ve come to the right place. This particular section of the Indian Penal Code states that any form of carnal intercourse going against the ‘order of nature’ is inherently criminal, essentially criminalizing the entire LGBTQ+ community and turning them into ‘unconvicted felons’. Imagine being a dutiful citizen for as long as you can remember only to have your fellow brothers and sisters turn against you, criminalized by a law from the colonial era. It really makes you think and speaks volumes about how Indians tend to hate the West so much, yet mimicking age-old laws put into place by the very same oppressors when it suits them. It tells you about the opportunistic and marginalizing nature of Indians as people.
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It’s gone, well, Section 377 is. At least, consensual adult homosexual intercourse isn’t a crime under the IPC anymore; you’re no longer a criminal for having a say in your sexuality and being born the way you were. It’s huge and unprecedented development in the Indian judicial history. It’s hard to swallow that there was a time when homosexual intercourse was as illegal as intercourse with a minor. It’s even harder to swallow that the judiciary managed to pull this off with the dignity and respect most of us have for the LGBTQ+ community, and simultaneously pissing off the ruling party. BJP supporters absolutely relished in the idea that it was something Congress could never achieve, until BJP outright stated their disagreement about the entire event. It happened, and there were heroes responsible for it. Now, you can openly identify as a homosexual without having to worry about the law breathing down your back; you can live a normal life cis heterosexual men take for granted. You can thank the petitioners and the five judge Constitution bench for striving endlessly to bring this into fruition, doing away with a colonial law rotting at the heart of our constitutional rights. Most importantly, for the LGBTQ+ community, it’s a win for individualism and their rights as citizens of this country.
All of this sounds great, and almost perfect on paper, until you see the cracks. We’re yet to legalize same sex marriage, all the Supreme Court has achieved till now is a basic acknowledgement of the existence of the LGBTQ+ community, and extended to them a mere portion of the respect they’d extend to the Indian male savarna. What’s worse is, the LGBTQ+ community in Kashmir gets none of these rights, since their law is dictated by the Ranbir Penal Code and not the IPC. And I wish progress stopped at laws, because it certainly doesn’t. We’re a long way from achieving our goals, of being a more nurturing country to those marginalized since the dawn of time. Even then, it’s just a beginning. A mere opportunity to fix the many wrongs our society is plagued with.
Here are six reasons why decriminalizing homosexuality is just a beginning, if anything:
It is said that language, and the use of it defines civilization. I’m sure decriminalizing Section 377 is progress, but how many of us can say homo-SEX-ual in public without amassing an entire bazaar of judgmental stares? We’re forced to say what we need to in hushed voices, and this will continue long after gay marriage becomes legal. Several words for ‘queer’ end up as degraded expletives, which showcases how the culture surrounding us views them. In a country rife with cases of sexual assault and harassment, it really is hypocritical to shush people talking about their sexuality. A huge percentage of the LGBTQ+ have been called a ‘chakka’ at some point in their lives like it meant nothing, like it isn’t forcing a fake identity upon them and the socially accepted disgust for trans-folk. It’s easy to not see the verbal injustices done to them on our seats of privilege, fortunate for never being born different. It’s easy to forget that words matter, and that bullying is something the LGBTQ+ faces for being themselves on an almost routine basis.
Violence against the marginalized is nothing new, but every occurrence is like a fresh slash on an age-old wound that time is too powerless to heal. The LGBTQ+ in particular have withstood violence in all forms, from verbal to grave physical assaults your favorite news channels won’t cover in their segments (the television is a dead medium anyway). It’s ugly, and it isn’t talked about as much as it should be. Imagine being as marginalized as them, then imagine having to endure physical and sexual assault while keeping shut so something worse doesn’t happen. It’s horrifying to come to the realization of how lucky we were to be born the way we were, the troubles of their lives doesn’t compare to ours.
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- Sexual assault [Trigger Warning]
Violence of a kind, but deserves its own spot in the list. Trans people in particular are victims of this, and an estimated four out of every ten people in the LGBTQ+ community have faced some form of sexual assault in their lives before the age of 18. Seventeen policemen raped a trans-woman repeatedly overnight, with her dying days later. Incidents like this aren’t uncommon, and they go unreported for the most part. This article does a great job talking about violence and things that people only like to whisper about. Few things match the sheer dread you feel while watching the video itself, a horrific sequence of events most of us can’t even dream of being in. Justice starts with talking about it, over and over till it becomes known. Another trans-woman ended up being raped by the only friends she knew, only to be doused with acid the next morning. Incidents like these make you lose your faith in society. So we take back the power, as we speak for the victims who aren’t here with us anymore.
- Excommunicated by their own family
Nothing speaks ‘Indian’ more than holding the most unrealistic material ideals when it comes to their children. Indian children tend to be investments, with money funneled into schools and coaching centers so they can lead ‘respectable’ lives. Being LGBTQ+ complicates things, naturally. There is a constant societal pressure which your parents won’t let you forget about, bragging about carrying out their basic duties as guardians against your wishes and actions. An uncountable number of trans-people get kicked out, or in some cases simply sold to someone lest they bring shame upon their family. Imagine being beaten to a pulp by a drunk father too delirious to care before being kicked out of the only place you could call home in a cold and cruel world. The LGBTQ+ have gone through worse, a dozen times worse. A very popular example of this came up recently, with Jackie Chan excommunicating his only daughter for being a lesbian. Homeless, she had to resort to the internet in a video with her girlfriend to make it known to people concerned. Several people reached out, and we can only hope she’s making it through her troubles with the help. If she were Indian, or not related to Jackie Chan, she might not have received this magnitude of exposure. It’s not a pretty world.
- Institutionalized discrimination
There will never be a dearth of bigots, and unfortunately a culture which represses things traditionally considered taboo. The social fabric of this country prevents a member of the LGBTQ+ community from accessing various amenities to their fullest extent. Amenities and features like the Police, are often not approached out of fear. Institutionalized discrimination is and always has been the bane of this country, with toxic workplace environments and job criteria cutting off those who need it the most.
- The utter lack of sex education
It’s ironic, particularly in a country like India with a population of well over 100 crores, that sex is a taboo subject. People are forced to comply with the traditional and notorious sexual binary, and anything deviating from the norm is innately immoral and against ‘the natural order’. Indians absolutely refuse to talk about sex with the coming generations, as being open about intercourse would destroy the holier-than-thou image they’ve spent centuries crafting.
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Decriminalizing homosexual intercourse is an amazing start, and is an important gesture on the part of the judicial system to the LGBTQ+ community and their endless petitions against injustice. It will take decades before the average middle class Indian family can openly talk about sexuality like they do with any other problem. It will take even longer for families to accept their children for who they are against the lack of social legitimization. Legalization of gay marriage definitely seems to be on the horizon, but it’s too early to say anything. It’s the beginning of a new era, I hope, for the ones who’ve suffered for as long as we can look back in history.
Featured image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License