06/09/2019 4:49 PM IST | Updated 06/09/2019 6:50 PM IST

The 377 Verdict's Bittersweet Legacy: More Support, But Not Enough Rights

The year since the Supreme Court’s order has seen many more stories of people ‘coming out’, but they sit side by side with accounts of marginalisation and alienation.

When Hyderabad’s first Pride March after the Supreme Court read down Section 377 was held earlier this year, many corporate sponsors contacted the organisers, extending their support. This was the case in other cities including Bengaluru and Chennai as well. Though the organisers rejected the offer, the outpouring of support showed that the change in law had led to companies trying to actively solicit members from the LGBTQIA community.

It’s not just MNCs—in many cities and towns in India, the year since the Supreme Court’s order has seen many more stories of ‘coming out’, say people part of the community. These, however, sit side by side with accounts of marginalisation and alienation.

“In the past it was always comparatively easier for people from urban areas to come out and talk about their sexuality when compared to their counterparts in rural areas where criminalisation had instilled fear and stigma. Now even in villages in Goa, people are more open about their sexuality and are better accepted,” said Andy Steven Silveira, who is part of queer collectives in both Hyderabad and Goa.

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While the basic rights of people with non-heterosexual orientation and transgender identification are still violated, members of the LGBTQIA community say the legal legitimacy for their sexual rights has led to peer groups, families, village communities and employers in the organised sector extending support to them.

In places known for ‘conversion therapy’ centres in states such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana—where children with different sexual orientations were often administered drugs to ‘change’ them to fit the heterosexual mold—parents have begun getting support from psychiatrists and psychologists who are now better aware of matters of sexual orientation. “Parents are taking appointments with psychiatric and psychosexual therapists for their children. The decriminalisation has made families safer for children with different sexual orientation,” said Rachana Mudraboyina, a Hyderabad based transwoman activist.

Mudraboyina has also been working with both government and non-governmental organisations which want to develop learning modules to help their employees become more sensitive to issues of sexuality.

“Most recently, I helped National Institute of Security Management with a learning module to prevent substance abuse among queer people who are victims of stigma. Such interventions, even though conventional, were unthinkable just a year ago,” said Mudraboyina, adding that even the NALSA judgement of the Supreme Court, which gave each individual the right to decide their gender, did not have the impact of the 2018 Section 377 judgement.

In southern states including Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, various support groups have mushroomed after judgement, she added.

The order also gave a voice to non-trans, non-gay persons, especially lesbians, who are less visible in the sexuality debate, said some members. Rituparna Borah from Nazaria, a queer feminist resource group based in Delhi which has been training school and college students and others, explained, “After last year’s ruling, several lesbian couples have left their homes and have started living together. While the mindset of people may not have changed, at least the police recognize that it is legal for such people to stay together. In general, there is a saying among the community, ‘sarkar ab hamare saath hai’. Par hum bolte hai, ‘sarkar saath nahin hei par court hamare saath hei’, (It is not the government but the court which is with us)” Borah said.

Inheritance, care still a concern

Many concerns still remain. For Sagnik Puri, a non-binary trans person and student of University of Hyderabad, not much had changed during the past year because “the discourse around sexuality is still silenced”. Even in academic spaces such as universities, people talk about ‘unnatural sex’, a term used in the colonial era section 377 law, he said.

“When non-heterosexual orientation is mentioned, when I say gender is not finite, that each person can choose their gender, most classrooms fall silent. It is difficult to break that silence even now, because it is associated with stigma,” Puri said.

For others, it is not just the “discourse” which has to change. Life itself has been difficult for many because basic civil rights are denied.

NurPhoto via Getty Images
Members and supporters of LGBT community during Queer Pride Walk 2019, in Guwahati, Assam.

Jijo Kuriakose, the founding director of Queerala organisation based in Kerala, said that people from the queer community are still at a disadvantage as their right to marry and associated legal rights are still denied. For members of a queer collective in Goa, it is the care for the elderly among the community which is a major concern.

“Many people still do not come out because they may be cut off from inheritance of property. In such cases, the Supreme Court judgement does not help,” Silveira said, pointing out that not everyone has benefited from the judgement.

Kuriakose, however, added that the number of enquiries for support received by Queerala has doubled in the past year.

“There are queer persons who now want to get a divorce because they had married heterosexual persons because of stigma. There are those who ask for counselling for families. Parents too reach out for resource material. These are positive changes which took place since the past one year,” said Kuriakose, adding that the organization now holds monthly, not bi-monthly, meetings to offer support, thanks to the increase in the number of people reaching out to them.

“The diversity of issues being raised by the community will lead to better democratisation within the community,” Kuriakose said.