After the law
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After the law

It's almost two years since India decriminalised homosexuality. Has the change in law brought about a change on the ground? Shalini Singh reports.

sex and relationships Updated: Dec 19, 2010 01:50 IST
Shalini Singh
Shalini Singh
Hindustan Times

When the gavel came down on July 2, 2009 in the Delhi High Court, striking down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and decriminalising homosexual sex between consenting adults, it became a historical moment in India's legislative history.

Almost two years on, it's time to see if things have changed on the ground. At a panel discussion last week at the American Centre where speakers shared views and experiences of gay rights in America and India, most speakers agreed that while the Indian law was a landmark, there's a long way to go for equality.

While in the US, recent cases of anti-LGBT-bullying suicides have prompted President Obama to push for gay rights as human rights, in India, mindsets are also, if not even more, closed. Unlike the US, we don't yet have any civil rights for same-sex couples. And activists such as Anjali Gopalan, founder of Delhi-based NAZ Foundation say the ruling has not changed much on the ground. "Issues such as women's sexuality are still problematic and lesbians have it the worst," she says.

Says gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi, "In places like Meerut or Haryana the police still harasses gay couples in parks, beats up hijras...People have been stoned for giving shelter to lesbian couples in Jalandhar."

Here, we track the impact of the scrapping of IPC Section 377 through these individual stories.

'I feel my school owes me an apology'

I studied at St Columbus in Delhi. I was always made fun of, but in class 9, my classmates just boycotted me because they thought I was too effeminate. A school like Columbus didn't support me. Till date, I feel they owe me an apology. I went to Europe for my graduation, where I started cross-dressing. Seeing my thin arms and legs, shaped eyebrows and gait, my father wouldn't talk to me properly.

With the 377 ruling, I have become braver. I can hit on gay men openly. But issues like cross-dressing remain a problem. At the Gymkhana club in Delhi, members started harassing my folks after the ruling, even threatening to terminate our membership.

As a professional, I have become dysfunctional. I can speak six languages, I am able-bodied, then why am I still unemployed? After several rounds of interviews, the American Express rejected me on the basis of my age! Why couldn't they tell me that earlier?

The 377 ruling has come as a sigh of relief, but just that. The police continues to harass the lower-class transvestite. If you are sending prostitutes to jail because you think they are spreading AIDS, then what about the heterosexual men who have sex with them without a condom? In some ways, I feel the attitude can become worse because now people will say homosexuality goes against our culture and it's legal now. We need to take baby steps.

'I used the ruling to tell my grandmother I was gay'

I was nine when I discovered I was gay while watching porn with friends. Before the 377 ruling, I used to feel like a third class citizen in my own country.

I used 377 to explain my orientation to my grandmother and extended relatives.

After the ruling, I keep dropping information about homosexuality at home, so that they get used to it. Then I took her my grandmother to the Central Park in Connaught Place and told her about my orientation. My grandmother was sad, she got emotional and asked me if I have a boyfriend. Eventually, they came to terms with it. They stood with me at the gay pride this year.

But working has been difficult. Before the ruling I worked at a call centre where my co-workers used to tease me.

The ruling will help LGBT teenagers in India who are struggling with their sexuality. The Indian Psychiatary Association should take a step ahead like the US, where they declared in 1973 that homosexuality is not a mental disease.

LGBT teenagers need a supportive social scenario. People don't know the difference between a gay male and a transvestite. So this year, we have started a collective for LGBT students. And now, I feel that it is going to be a long fight for our human rights.

'My cousins' attitude has changed'

I feel more secure now. I don't feel out of place in a crowd anymore, thinking people are looking at me because of my sexuality. Those things are getting over.

Section 377 has empowered me. Earlier, I would be scared because the police here is known to catch on to people like us and extract money.

Now, I can easily go to the police station and file a complaint if I have to. Things are getting better but it's only us who're aware of our rights. In many cases, the police doesn't know the law exists, and so, they need to be educated.

More people have started talking about homosexuality, which they didn't earlier. The freak tag is out. My cousins' attitude has changed towards me after they read about Section 377. But Indian gay men are not yet confident about themselves. There's a section that hasn't even haven't come out to their families.

I didn't have it good when I was working in public relations in Delhi earlier. This is when I had just started. My seniors adored me, but my sexuality embarrassed them. They were not ready to include a gay guy in a better team. That really hurt me and eventually, I quit.

I have been living out of my house since I was 15, and didn't have to explain things to my family. With time, they have come to terms with it. I am now moving to the United Kingdom, where I am getting married to my boyfriend who is a British musician. And, my brother is buying me my wedding dress.

'My parents still hope I'll marry a man'

Before the ruling, I would not have allowed my photos to published in an article on homosexuality. Now, I'm fine with it.

I had always liked women but understood it much later. In class 7, I gave a classmate a card and everyone teased me and called me gay. At 17, I had my first relationship with a girl, but I couldn't talk about it.

After the ruling, all the queer folk in Mumbai are thrilled. I face less discrimination now. People seem aware and are more accepting. My parents, though, still hope that I'll marry a man. They feel I will be more secure with a man.

The first gay club has opened in Andheri, west Mumbai; the girl who runs it says she decided to open this place when the earlier parties stopped. It's a fun, comfortable place to hang out at these days.

First Published: Dec 19, 2010 01:47 IST