Section 377 second anniversary: Call for celebration, but miles to go
September 6 marks the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement, which decriminalised homosexuality under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. On that day, then Chief Justice Dipak Misra quoted German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s words ‘I am what I am, so take me as I am’; and that is what the LGBTQI+ individuals have been saying.
Thrilled about the normalisation on screen: Apurva Asrani
As members and allies of the LGBTQI+ mark this day, at home this year amid the pandemic, filmmaker Apurva Asrani feels India has taken steps in the right direction, including the now popular OTT platforms and the our classic Bollywood. Asrani rejoices that “After the 377 judgement, we are moving away from only telling tragic stories of the marginalised, and we are seeing content that celebrates the vibrant and spirited LGBTQI+ too.”
Asrani had earlier this year announced that he had bought a house with his partner, and that for 13 years they had been forced to pretend that they were cousins. He adds, “I’m most thrilled about the normalisation of the community. Khan, in the web series AARYA (actor Vikas Kumar) happens to be gay, but his function in the series is to play a hard-nosed, unsentimental cop. Cuckoo (played by Kubbra Sait) in Sacred Games is a transexual, but she brings so much more to the story. Karan (Arjun Mathur) from Made In Heaven is a terrific wedding planner, a great friend to Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala), and also happens to be gay. I also loved the forbidden love track between the two beautiful leading men in Geetu Mohandas’s film Moothon (2019). It was so sensitively done that you forget that it’s two men and you only see two innocent souls in love.”
More queer people are writing their stories: Parmesh Shahani
Author and activist Parmesh Shahani’s recent book Queeristan talks about LGBTQI+ inclusion in corporate workplaces, and his first book Gay Bombay (2008) explores the life and struggle of homosexuals. He says that since the verdict, there have certainly “been more conversations, more families have accepted queer children, and there are more platforms by and for the individuals from LGBTQI+.”
Shahani adds that the change is driven by the people, “What excites me today about the publishing world is the fact that today’s queer literature shows the range of LGBTQI+ experiences and is being written by people from within the community... Who would have thought that we’d have a book on or by an LGBTQI person being released every week? Akhil Katyal and Aditi Angiras’ book The World That Belongs To Us, or A Revathi’s A Life in Trans Activism — the works today inspire other people to write their own stories.”
He also talks about changes in India’s corporate world, adding, “Earlier companies that wanted to be inclusive couldn’t be so because of the law. But now, many organisations, often run by queer people, are working for inclusion. But there are miles to go before we can call ourselves a queer-friendly nation. Marriage, civil rights, anti-discriminatory bill, Transgender Act — these still need to be addressed.”
Legalising same-sex marriage is our biggest dream: Nithu RS
Among the transgender individuals who have come out and shone bright is Nithu RS, India’s first trans tattoo artist, who won the Miss Trans Queen India pageant in 2019. “Year 2018 was a historic day for our community. I was lucky enough to get accepted by my family before the judgement, but a vast majority of people in my community have not been accepted even after SC’s judgement. There is a bigger fight for our social rights. The view of society towards us has not changed yet, and to break stereotypes we need proper education,” says Nithu, who believes transgenders are still marginalised in India.
She hopes, on the second anniversary of the historic SC judgement, their civil rights are ensured in the coming years. “Media plays a major role to highlight our issues, suffering pain and grief that we go through all the time. Legalising same-sex marriage is the biggest dream for all of us. I hope in coming days we get what we deserve.”
This is no life of dignity for the trans: Naaz Joshi
Naaz Joshi, a trans rights activist, believes things have improved for lesbian gay and bisexuals, but transgenders still have a long way to go. “I know of many trans women who are living the life of women, after their facial feminisation surgery; they are legally registered as women voters. Even their boyfriends don’t know they are trans! But there is no representation... A TV show still uses a woman to portray a transwoman,” she rues.
Joshi feels, inspite of her many achievements, she faces discrimination. She adds, “Being a mother of two girl children, I still have no job. I’m back to begging and clapping to feed my children. This is no life of dignity.”
Thankfully my audience has been courteous: Vasu Primlani
Comedienne Vasu Primlani is also circumspect about the representation of LGBTQI+ be it is in films or media, be it social or legal. Ask whether the comedy circuit is open to LGBTQI+ expressions or individuals, and Primlani says, “No, it is not. Maybe in bigger cities like Mumbai things are better, but not in India at large... As a woman, things are unfair within the society, but thankfully my audience has been courteous.”
Known for her bold stand up comic acts that have often shook the audience out of their complacencies, Primlani remembers how representation of queer has improved since Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996), but continues to be tokenistic. About her field of expertise, she asserts, “The comedy community is queer, as in weird, by themselves. It’s not for me. After Section 377 was repealed, our rights have been protected by law, but there is a long way to go for inclusion to happen.”
A campaign for a menswear brand got me hatred in return: Anwesh Sahoo
Illustrator-model Anwesh Sahoo, who was crowned Mr Gay World India in 2016, says that while the repealing of Section 377 has opened up doors to more opportunities, the LGBTQI+ are still far from being in an ideal place. “I did a campaign for a menswear brand; the amount of hatred I received only explains how homophobic we still are as a nation. Do we really look at effeminate gay men as dignified individuals? Do we think Trans is beautiful? There is a lot of groundwork that needs to be done,” opines the Bengaluru-based artist.
A successful model, Sahoo believes the fashion industry has historically been pro-representation when it comes to LGBTQI+, but cinema has a long way to go. “We have not moved beyond binary depictions. Hindi movies mein aaj tak kitne trans characters depict huye hain, jabki kitni empowering stories hain trans individuals ki. Things are changing through OTT platforms, but not enough,” he adds.
Author tweets @Bhagat_Mallika