Holding hands, Arun* and Vijay now share an uncertain future. The law of the land has deemed their status as a couple illegal. This is the immediate fall out of the Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday, which refused to uphold a Delhi high court order that had de-criminalised homosexuality.
They had been a couple before 2009. But their secret was theirs to keep, not to be shared beyond a community living behind closed doors.
“Today, the door has been closed on us again. The Supreme Court has ruled that I and my partner are no longer constitutionally valid,”
Arun says, as others come to him in solidarity. Living in the shadows of denial for years, they had not even told their families that they were together. “But 2009 gave us courage, a freedom that made us confident to tell everyone we knew that we shared a relationship. Today, the law has mandated who I can have a relationship with, or not. That is our reality.”
Across the road, watching LGBT activist Gautam Bhan address the crowd on stage, is Manisha and Sunaina. They met post 2009 and fell in love. Holding hands, navigating through the crowds, they are worried about what the judgment will do to them and the life they have lived so far.
“Does this mean that if we meet as part of the LGBT community, we can get arrested?” asks Sunaina, as reporters, rush around taking down quotes. Pre-2009 tales of the police picking up men and women who would meet at “gay parties” are quickly shared as the future is being discussed.
“I remember, between 2001, when we first filed the petition, and 2009 when the judgment was delivered, life was so difficult for us,” says Shaleen Rakesh, currently the director of the India HIV Alliance. Rakesh was with the Naz Foundation in 2001 when they went to court to de-criminalise homosexuality.
“We were working on HIV issues and the police would threaten us and wouldn’t let our workers meet because they said that homosexuality is a criminal act. That was their understanding and we actually saw AIDS cases jump during this period.” For Ankit and his partner, such tales is their burden to carry. While for many it seems like a simple matter of choice, for them, there are larger issues at play.
“If I were to contract AIDS, how do I state how I was infected and who were at risk, because of my relationship. A basic right as medical care is no longer available to me and my partner because, in the eyes of the law, we are now criminals.”
*All names have been changed to protect their identity