They kissed in the middle of a busy Vakola street, held hands proudly and unabashedly did jhatkas and matkas to the beats of the dhol (drum).
The 100-plus gays and eunuchs who participated in a rally from Vakola market to Kalina on Thursday evening did not hide their faces behind masks or paint. They had finally gained acceptance in the eyes of law.
At Liquid Lounge in South Mumbai, a toast was raised to the Delhi High Court judgment decriminalising gay sex between consenting adults. The bubbly flowed late into the night and spirits were high as members of the gay community gyrated to popular songs.
“Happy Independence Day to me,” said lesbian rights activist Geeta Kumana.
The Gay Bombay website hailed the ruling as a “victory for all Indians”.
Manvendra Singh Gohil, the prince of Rajpipla (Gujarat) who came out of the closet four years ago, said India was finally on the path to progress. “Now the world will be able to see India as a country guided by reason alone. Earlier, it was a nation of snake charmers and bullock carts,” he said.
A press release issued by the Humsafar Trust said removing consenting adults from the purview of Section 377 was a “powerful statement on respecting the basic human rights of queer people”.
Activists said the ruling would end decades of persecution, harassment, discrimination and blackmail. “Lesbian couples have been forced to commit suicide, gay men have been forced into marriages that damage themselves and their wives and transgender people have suffered continual violence because under Section 377 they all were criminals,” said Humsafar CEO Vivek Anand.
Kumana, too, said people would not be able to misuse the law anymore. “I know of gays who have sex with their partners and then blackmail them by using Section 377 to frame rape charges,” she said.
Shridhar Rangayan, who used to edit India’s first gay magazine, Bombay Dost, said the ruling would empower gays to speak out against harassment. “Tomorrow, if a homosexual is harassed at his workplace, he can complain to the police,” he said.
Well-known eunuch Lakshmi Tripathi said they would no longer have to fear “the policemen and goondas who extorted from them and harassed” them.
Though participants of the parade at Vakola did not wear masks as a symbol of the recognition that they had been given, activists said they are unlikely to start jumping out of the closet. “It will be a gradual process as there is still a social stigma attached to being gay,” said gay blogger and activist Harish Iyer.
Activists pointed out that the legalising of homosexuality will also give a boost to the fight against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. “Gays will have better access to healthcare and counselling now,” said Rangayan.
A post on the Gay Bombay website said: “We will also have fewer gay men forced into arranged marriages in which they continue to have same-sex relations secretly, get infected, and then often pass on the virus to their wives.”
The community feels this is just the first step of a long journey. “The struggle will continue as social attitudes are still to change and constitutional amendments have to be made to ensure constitutional rights for us,” said Rangayan.
They felt same-sex marriage is still a distant dream. “A lot more needs to be done for society to get reformed and for homosexuals to get acceptance. It will take many more years before gays can marry and adopt children,” said Ketki Ranade, a researcher and counsellor.