“After delivering the judgment, I was a little apprehensive about public response to it,” says former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A.P. Shah, key architect of the verdict decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults in private. “When I went home I didn’t switch on the TV till 8:30 pm. My wife called me up from Mumbai that it’s all over the TV channels. Then only I watched news,” he says.
A year on, the apprehension has given way to satisfaction. “It’s a huge relief to know that the judgment has been received well,” says the judge, described by some jurists as one of the best legal minds in India.
“I think it’s the most important judgment in my career,” admits Justice Shah. “The issues involved were very complex. It pertained to rights of about four million homosexuals. It was a question of public morality versus constitutional morality and we ruled in favour of the latter,” he says.
The verdict, co-authored by Justice S. Muralidhar, is under challenge before the SC. Asked if he had come across the plight of homosexuals, Justice Shah says, “I knew a few gay persons, though not closely. In my hometown Sholapur I saw the sufferings of trans-genders. In Mumbai, I had an occasion to meet gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi at a function.
“I am aware of their plight. As a judge, I awarded Rs 5 lakh compensation to the sister of a trans-gender who committed self-immolation in Chennai due to police atrocities,” he says.
“I know a couple of distinguished judges from Australia and South Africa who are gays,” says Justice Shah, who has since been invited to deliver lectures on related issues.