AASHNA MALPANI WRITES — On September 6, India’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of legalizing consensual same-sex relations by striking down a draconian law that deemed LGBT Indians to be “against the order of nature.”
The landmark ruling marks the culmination of decade-long protests staged by gay Indians and allies. Justice Deepak Misra adjudged the colonial-era ban “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary,” thereby splintering one of the last vestiges of the British raj.
Perhaps because it is the largest democracy in the world, the Supreme Court felt compelled to add that gay Indians are heirs to all rights and protections guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
The opinion presented by the slate clad in black robes was expected to create a kerfuffle. Religious conservatives of Christian, Hindu and Islamic faith, often at odds when it comes to everything else, now stand united against this ruling. According to the New York Times, Swami Chakrapani, President of the conservative group All India Hindu Mahasabha, belted out: “We are giving credibility and legitimacy to mentally sick people.”
In addition to this orthodox outrage, LGBT people faced the brunt of rejection when India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his government stayed silent after the decision. Indeed, throughout India’s tough journey toward the legalization of gay relations, Mr. Modi and his Bhartiya Janta Party refused to weigh in on the matter.
Mr. Modi not only failed to acknowledge the win, he tried to steer attention away from it by repeatedly posting about foreign relations on Twitter on that same day.
Had a wonderful meeting with the Secretaries of State and Defence of US and discussed outcomes of 2+2 dialogue, bilateral strategic and security related issues. @StateDept @DeptofDefense pic.twitter.com/FHAXDfkIr0
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 6, 2018
This is the same Mr. Modi who hurriedly took to Twitter to share his condolences over the fatal shooting of the LGBT community at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, back in 2016.
Shocked at the shootout in Orlando, USA. My thoughts & prayers are with the bereaved families and the injured.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 12, 2016
Mr. Modi’s tweet sympathizing with LGBT Americans was met with a huge backlash, as Indians urged him to first care about the marginalized community at home.
Orlando about many things- ISIS motivated radicals, hate against Gays, gun lobbies. Our empathy more meaningful if we at least scrap 377
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) June 13, 2016
Dear PM @narendramodi ji, you think LGBT people are safe in India? That too, in YOUR government?
— मङ्गलम् (@veejaysai) June 12, 2016
This fresh burst of outrage behind Mr. Modi’s hush on the 2018 ruling appears to be nationwide. Akhilesh Godi, a 25-year-old data scientist in Bangalore, complained to the New York Times about influential politicians in Mr. Modi’s conservative cabinet even “refusing to comment.”
Nevertheless, thousands of Indians broke into celebration all over the country, with many cheering, dancing, drinking, and kissing under showers of confetti. These were the same people, who, just days before, were considered criminals due to the nature of their sexuality.
The battle for equality has barely begun, though, as LGBT folk in India still live in fear of police brutality, sexual assault, and other forms of humiliation. Besides pockets of progressives concentrated in metropolitan cities, the country remains largely rural, with smaller towns and villages not ready to fully digest the notion that homosexulaity is legal, or at the very least, should be tolerated. As Anurag Kalia, a 25-year-old engineer in Bangalore said, “It feels like there’s much more to come. This is just the first strike.”