Indian Homosexuals Live In Uncertainty A Year After Apex Court Recriminalised Gay Sex

11/12/2014 5:14 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 30: Indian members and supporters of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community hold placards and dances during a Gay Pride Parade, on November 30, 2014 in New Delhi, India. Nearly a thousand gay rights activists marched to demand an end to discrimination against gays in India's deeply conservative society. (Photo by Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Exactly a year ago, India's Supreme Court outlawed gay sex. On December 11, 2013, the Supreme Court reversed the Delhi High Court decision in 2009 to decriminalise homosexuality. The Delhi High Court had struck down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code after a decade-long battle by activists for the LGBT community in India.

The reversal of the law devastated LGBT supporters.

Bharat Bhushan, 41, is an openly gay lawyer in Delhi but his boyfriend is still in the closet. Bhushan said that his boyfriend will not even consider telling his parents after the Supreme Court order.

"I don't feel the change because I was already open. But it is impossible for him to tell his parents now. How can you tell your parents that you are illegal," he said. "The order has been devastating especially for young people. It has taken us back to the dark ages."

Section 377 is a British-era relic, stating “Unnatural offences—Whoever voluntarily has carnal inter­course against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with 1[imprisonment for life], or with impris­onment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Activists and lawyers say that the chances of amending section 377 are bleak.

“It would be a fantasy to expect this parliament to pass such a law,” said Akhil Katyal, a leading gay rights activist.

While the BJP is ideologically opposed to decriminalising gay sex, Katyal described the Congress Party as too cowardly to support the LGBT community.

“The best and the only way is for the courts to handle this issue and the courts have reneged this responsibility,"he said. "They can’t just pass the buck to the parliament.”

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Earlier this year, a dentist reportedly slapped section 377 on her 32-year-old husband after she found out that he is gay. Even though section 377 was rarely used even before Delhi High Court order in 2009, this re-criminalization makes the LGBT community more vulnerable to harassment and blackmail by the police and the public.

Ghulam, a 26-year-old from Lucknow, requested that his real name not appear because he hasn't told his parents about his relationship with a Kashmiri man. He described himself as religious, and said that it is devastating for him to carry the burden of being outlawed both by Islam and India. Talking to his parents is not an option after the Supreme Court order.

"If I did not have the support of my religion then I trusted the law of the land. If I had any support from anywhere then I would have courage to go to my family," he said. "I could have claimed that my country and society accepted me so why not them. But what should I tell them when I'm illegal."

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For many gay men and women, the Supreme Court ruling is not only an intrusion into their sex lives, but a wider assault on their freedom to fall in love without fear, and behave like couples in love. How gay partners tweak their relationships to guard against the dangers around them will be unique to their circumstances.

For Tushar Taluja, who came out to his family and friends early on, the change in law has not affected him at all. "I come from a very open-minded family," Taluja explained over the phone to HuffPost India. "I don't get any extra or negative marks for being gay."

But he said that there were many people in the LGBT community who had become even more hesitant of coming out in public than they were earlier. He said that it was already hard for some of them to come out of the closet at all, and that had begun to change when the Delhi High Court decriminalised section 377 in 2009. "People wanted to be seen holding hands," said the 35-year-old who works in a retail innovation firm. "Now the apprehension has started all over again."

Some, whose relationship had blossomed under the protection of the 2009 judgement, refuse to be secretive now. Other love stories will be pushed underground. For many young men and women, the Supreme Court order rules out any chances of men and women coming out to their parents.

Bhushan said that many gay Indians had opened up to their colleagues after 2009. But now they live with the fear of being blackmailed or intimidated by colleagues or anyone who has a grudge against them. "And what about those living outside Delhi and Mumbai," he said. "A simple gay Indian will never talk about homosexuality now. They have been silenced."

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And there are cases of extreme physical and psychological abuse.

Himadri Roy, a professor of gender studies, said that the LGBT community had been "stigmatised through socio-psychological gaze."

Roy said that his friends and acquaintances in the larger LGBT community in India have been adversely affected. He described the case of a 26-year-old friend from Darjeeling who had been openly gay. Roy said that his friend was gang raped in an office cab by coworkers and the cab driver earlier this September. "When he went to hospital the doctors there refused to attend him as it was a criminal case," said Roy. "Before the police could be involved he fled from there to his friends place at Dwarka, where he got treated by a gay doctor friend."

His friend quit his job. "He did not complain to the police because of the law. He doesn't want anyone to know about him as he is afraid back home he will be excommunicated," said Roy.

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Only a few have the resources to fight off harassment.

Shriya Rainbow Singh, 23, who describes herself as a "pan sexual writer" said said she was one of the exceptions. "We come from a very elite class of society but people who are not so privileged live with the very real threat of being threatened and blackmailed everyday," she said. "They don't even know how ridiculously difficult it is to incriminate someone with this section unless one made a video."

Singh said that she had heard the phrase "Zaada haath mat pakad varna section 377 lag jayega (don't hold my hand or you will be slapped by 377)" being used in zest in the LGBT community. "You know it starts as a joke but its a joke because the threat is real," she said.

Singh also made the case that section 377 should be opposed as a human rights violation and not just a LGBT issue since the law opposed any form of sex other than intercourse for procreation as "unnatural." "Who does not enjoy oral sex? Even using condoms is unnatural. The entire law is illogical," she said.

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