After a lesbian couple filed a petition seeking help from the court, fearing harassment upon missing complaint by the parents, Justice N Anand Venkatesh took a step ahead by choosing to attend counselling sessions with experts and people who have been working to support and highlight issues related to LGBTQIA+ community. Justice Venkatesh attended counselling sessions with a panel of experts to understand the issues faced by the LGBTQIA+ and their emotions to gain clarity before he could give the judgment.
While psychotherapist Vidya Dinakaran helped him understand various aspects of same-sex relationships, interaction with people in same-sex relationships, experts in the field, and parents of people who are in same-sex relationships as part of the panel were helpful to make the counselling process easier and better to understand.
In goals of the sessions for the parents were different from those for the judge as the latter was directed more at psycho-education. However, some parallels can be drawn between the sessions as similar falsified notions of homosexuality were held.
With same-sex relationships being viewed as primarily physical intimacy by many, Vidya Dinakaran, who took up the counselling for Justice Venkatesh and the parents of the couple, says that one such notion that was challenging had to do with the reduction of homosexuality to merely a physical relationship. For one of the family, homosexual relationships were assumed to be illegitimate as they did not result in the continuation of the family lineage. Comprehending that a queer romantic relationship equals any other relationship that is socially accepted (except for the unique stressors in the relationship) demanded working through the binary understanding of sex, gender and sexuality.
“The fact that ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ were defined by the society negates the very idea it is trying to promote,” says Vidya. “What was addressed here was the discounting of safety concerns (i.e) in this stigmatised society the queer members are faced primarily with only two options, to either out themselves and be subjected to potential danger or invisibilize their identity all along. There are very limited spaces to explore and have open conversations and even limited safe spaces. Many such factors contribute to the minority status and that deviance is only ‘perceived’ by the society,” she adds.
Experts point out that the difficulty arises because we, as a society, have condemned and shamed any conversation related to gender, sex or sexuality resulting in fear of opening up. A safe and informed environment needs to be created at every corner –- schools, institutions, families, workplace and even by the legal, physical and mental health service providers. Sensitisation programmes for the same need to be conducted by individuals from queer communities who also have professional expertise in the matter. Right resources also need to be made accessible to ease the process of the same. What was remarkably distinct about the session with the Judge was the openness in discussing the beliefs held and the willingness to unlearn and relearn. The need to bring about an authentic systemic change that started on a personal level had impacted progression of the session,” says Vidya.
Dr L Ramakrishnan, vice-president of Saathii, a public health and human rights NGO had suggested including same-sex couples, parents of people in same-sex relationships and experts who have been working towards preventing gender-based violence to give Justice Venkatesh a better understanding of the ground reality of LGBTQIA+ community as Justice Venkatesh accepted his knowledge on the subject was limited.
In about one year from March 2020 to March 2021, 32 couples, most of them being same-sex couples, or a trans man living with a female partner approached Saathii for help. With the pandemic on rage, people working in cities were forced to go home due to job losses or Work From Home. During this, a lot of them faced issues such as being forced to stop hormonal therapy, forced marriages, being locked at home or sent to other places. “There is a need to train the police personnel, the system in jails, medical curriculum and even parents have to be guided on their approach towards the community. I was asked to work on a small report on how government departments can be trained to ensure inclusiveness and be of help to LGBTQIA+ community,” Dr L Ramakrishnan, vice-president, Saathii.
“It was earlier thought that non-governmental organisations could be of help but in the case of small towns, the presence of NGOs is limited and government authorities can be of more help to victims of gender-based harassment and other support for people from the LGBTQIA+ community in times of need,“ he added.
“The order that can be of use if similar cases arise in future, even in other parts of the country. It’s an interim order and he has given deadlines to the government sector and medical commission to get back to them on this,” says Ramakrishnan.
S Shanmathi, manager of psycho-social services at International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) was one of the panellists for the counselling session and she worked on a flowchart to highlight the kind of help and support people in same-sex relationships require. She said the panellists helped to bring out the ground reality of how individuals in same-sex relationships suffer when they bring it up to parents.
“There are instances where people in same-sex relationships are forcefully married, put through electro-conclusive therapy or taken to conversion therapy. These issues were presented to judge Venkatesh. Very often, when same-sex couples open up to their parents, they think their children are misled, take children to places of worship, put them through some form of sedition, and even seek psychiatric help. Certain medical professionals are not trained to handle these cases and it is often regarded as a mental health disorder to choose to be in the same-sex relationship.”
Shanmathi says there is a significant need for training healthcare professionals as there are chances of being misinformed and train them so that these cases can be handled better, or at least refer such cases to the right people -- trained psychologists or psychotherapists in the field.
The panel members say that Judge Venkatesh was very receptive when they were giving him insights and he was ready to improvise on what can be worked upon to make the community more inclusive.
“There are people from the LGBTQIA+ community belonging from the interiors of Tamil Nadu who have lost all support system and don’t have anyone to reach out to. They are subjected to violence and harassment and it is challenging to find a job for them because many of their educational qualification certificates are destroyed and they only get a negligible pay job. Some of them are unable to get admission to college because they do not have parental consent. These issues were brought up before the judge and he tried to support inclusiveness of the community in the order,” said Shanmathi.
International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) that works towards the prevention of gender-based violence has seen a rise in the cases of individuals who have come up to accept their sexuality, but also there is a rise in gender-based violence as there is a lack of inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community in the society. In such circumstances, people in same-sex relationships require long-term support.
“There are members of the community in all the districts and even villages. So the blame on metros should be stopped and acceptance should be encouraged even in rural parts of the country. People from several parts of TN come to Chennai as they fail to seek support in small towns. There are hardly any shelter homes in non-urban and rural parts. At PCVC, we work with stakeholders to accommodate these people, arrange for the counselling of the parents with the help of stakeholder to ensure that these people are safe and immediate travel, counselling or protection can be provided. We also try to provide them employment opportunities,” says Shanmathi.