In the backdrop of Pride Month, which is observed globally in June, it might be pertinent to call attention to the manner in which gay rights have evolved in India over the past few decades and the giant strides made with respect to protecting the rights of sexual minorities. For most millennials, and baby boomers, one of the most significant legislations that have been passed in India, which have paved the way for the recognition of members of the queer community has been the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. It was in 2018, that the Supreme Court of India struck down the Victorian era law which criminalised consensual homosexual relations between two adults. The judgement which was delayed by several decades was preceded by the sacrifices of several individuals in India who had been persecuted and ostracised from society on account of their sexuality.
Consider the case of Professor Ramchandra Siras, a lecturer from Aligarh Muslim University, who was found dead in 2010 after a video of a highly personal nature involving him and another man was leaked onto the internet. While the nature of the relationship was consensual, the fact that an adult in India was bound by the diktats of society even in matters involving one’s own sexuality, is something that cannot be condoned. We have come a long way since then, as members of the queer community are more emboldened to live their lives the way they choose to. However, the reality is that there’s so much more room for improvement.
A few months ago, a restobar in Chennai had barred entry to two young men because gay couples were not permitted in the outlet. The two gentlemen who had planned the night out had performed all the due diligence, vis-a-vis checking whether the said outlet was a queer-friendly joint before heading out. While there was backlash on social media with celebrities and activists lending their voice to calls against discrimination, the restobar went on to stick with its narrative that there was no bias in its conduct.
Having said that, there are a few silver linings. The media is on a roll, thanks to OTT platforms which find the courage to showcase queer narratives that would be considered too risqué for mainstream programming on TV. Recent offerings from Bollywood such as Badhaai Do, have also made a decent effort in mainstreaming the LGBTQIA community’s struggles.
Tamil Nadu, a beacon of inspiration for India, had introduced a column for the third gender in its application forms for college admissions way back in the 90s. Today, when you see auto fill forms on websites which ask for the gender drop-down, look for that final option which says, ‘would not like to specify’. While the Railways have also introduced a T column for members of the trans community, the Delhi High Court came down heavily on a requirement that said that those keen on changing their genders in the passport have to file a proof of gender reassignment surgery.
Even companies are hand-holding their staffers with regard to the manner in which members of LGBTQIA must be referred to, as in he/she/they, a phenomenon that became widespread on Twitter. But there are miles to go as the comforts of asserting one’s own sexuality are enjoyed mostly by members of the privileged class. It will take a whole lot of sensitisation before India can begin counting itself as a truly inclusive and accepting society, on all counts.