Sec 377 is history. It is battle won, but war to get social equality remains
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community of Pune celebrated the Supreme Court’s verdict to decriminalise consensual sex between two adults regardless of their gender under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. However, the members of the community also believe that it is simply a step towards a better tomorrow — a battle won, but the war remains.
Celebrations broke out across the city minutes after the apex court verdict was announced as activists and LGBT people welcomed a verdict that affirmed their rights as citizens. A transgender, Sonali Dalvi, said, “I’m so happy! I feel like I won after so many years of struggle. This is what we wanted all along. Party, jashan and celebration all over. Now in India we are not criminals. Marriages, child adoption and property are still issues, but we had a massive win. I never thought I’ll see this day in my lifetime. Everyone around me was sure that it will be in our favour, but I was slightly nervous. Now I want to give advertisements in matrimonial! To my friends who used to say that we should go to the US and get married, I used to ask them why should I, an Indian, do that? I belong to the land of Bal Gangadhar ‘Lokmanya’ Tilak and like ‘Swaraj is my birthright, equality is my birthright too’.”
“I want to jump and dance right now! We are planning to organise a dhol tasha and celebration today! Now the whole agenda is to gather the community in one place! No serious talk, we will probably all dance our hearts out,” said Shyam Konnur, a member of the community.
In four separate but concurring verdicts, the bench headed by Chief Justice of India, ruled that the section failed to make a distinction between consensual and non-consensual acts. “Any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates fundamental rights,” said Chief Justice Dipak Misra, as he read out the operative portion of the top court’s verdict that struck down Section 377 to the extent that it penalised consensual sexual relationship between two adults.
“The last time it was decriminalised and re-criminalised, I was barely 18. Now I’m happy. But we have seen how such a judgement can be turned on its head. My first reactions are very paranoid. For people who can go out and be whoever they want to be, I’m very happy. Even two weeks before the verdict, we had a lot of negative comments. I’m concerned about how we are going to combat all the hate that is going to be spewed,” said a city-based musician and teacher. He wistfully remembers the events of 2013 when homosexuality was re-criminalised, while requesting anonymity.
The city’s LGBT community has a history of struggle. With a history of pride walks and pro-LGBT social work, the Samapathik Trust is run by Bindumadhav Khire. Khire and the organisation have held nine Pride walks in the city. The walks attract crowds from various fields including students, professionals and social activists.
However, Khire's non-flamboyant ways have earned him some opposition from his younger counterparts. The words "nanga naach" created a rift in community, when Khire asked the younger crowd to not dress scantily. In 2018, for the first time, organisations like Mist spoke about holding their own pride as they do not align with Khire's long-standing opinions.
Pune was also one of the many cities which opposed the non-availability of toilets for transgender people at workplaces and educational institutes.
Today is our independence day
Today, is our independence day,” many exclaimed amidst the fluttering rainbow flags and bouts of joy which filled the air as Punekars welcomed Supreme Court’ s landmark on Section 377 on Thursday.“Today is the true independence day for us,” said Shreeram, reacting on the landmark Supreme Court judgement which decriminalised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.Like many from his community of LGBT individuals, Shreeram had come to rejoice the verdict at Monalisa Kalagram, Koregaon Park. Expressing his joy, he added, “This day, September 6, is historic because today the people of our community truly gained independence under the law. After 157 years of oppression because of the draconian law that discriminated against us and criminalised our existence, we now can take a sigh of relief after all.”
Many individuals had come from a city-based LGBT community, Mist, founded by one of the organisers, Shyam Konnur. “The name symbolises the mist around the community and how we have been trying to clear that for the past few years now. This judgement will surely be a step forward to the goal,” said Konnur. Mist was started in Bengaluru in 2010, to help individuals of the queer community to bond and impact each other’s social lives.Konnur has been working with a city-based corporate company and said that unlike his case, there are corporates that still continue to hold the stigma. “I was lucky that my employer didn’t care if I was straight or not, but only my work. But, this is not a widespread scenario. This judgement would be beneficial in those specific areas, in addition to much more. However, its just the first step and more social awareness and acceptance needs to come. This is just the beginning.”
Talking about the impact of the verdict, Puja Shukla added, “This is not it. It is the opening of one door, to let us in and fight for our rights,” Puja Shukla.