8 years isn't that long in Indian judicial terms. Eye-witnessed murders, rapes and even acts of terrorism have frequently taken longer to recieve a judgment - any judgment. How then, did a group of young lawyers manage to take on this very judiciary and cause them to deliver a judgment affecting the vast Indian society in 8 years?
Meet my heroes. The Lawyers Collective - a group of young, progressive, hard-working lawyers who have succeeded in taking the first concrete step towards curbing the continual spill-over of public morality into private sexuality.
Yes, these are the people who, along with Naz foundation and 'Voices against 377' (an umbrella group of 13 organisations), fought tirelessly since 2001 against the controversial Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code - 377. Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. -
and succeeded in causing the Delhi High Court to decriminalise it.
Before going any further, I'd like to state that I do realise that 'decriminalise' does not mean 'legalise'. However, one has to accept that if the law is black,white and grey, this move has pushed homosexual intercourse from the black to the grey.
The Lawyers Collective was set up in 1981 by lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising - as a public interest service provider.
The petition against Section 377 was filed in 2001 by the Naz Foundation, represented by the Lawyers Collective. However it was rejected in September 2004 on the grounds of it having no 'locus standi' in the matter. ie. it failed to prove a sufficient connection to the challenged law. However, on Supreme Court appeal, the PIL was sent back to the Delhi HC as the Supreme Court decided that it had the standing. Finally, on the 7th of November, 2008, the hearings ended.
I will admit that I knew very little of the above while it was taking place (I have very little to say in my defence, so lets skip that part). The historic judgement on the 2nd of July, 2009 had come as a huge surprise to me.
I had woken up early that morning only to realise that I didn't have any lectures for the day, and forced to have breakfast since I'd woken up, was grumpily watching Baba Ramdev suck in his stomach 80 times a minute or whatever on TV, while my Mum imitated. The guy was good, I was thinking. He really wanted the best for the people. I mean, there were people there who had apparently been cured of cancer (by sucking in their stomachs, yes.) and all they'd had to do was watch Aastha channel for an hour, every morning.
Until he opened his mouth on something that really didn't concern him at all. "I spoke to Mr. Gulam Nabi Azad yesterday," he began in Hindi. "And he has told me that the laws legalising Live-in Relationships and Homosexuality shall not be passed. And this is a GOOD thing!" Whatever he was saying after that got drowned by the stupenduous applause he was receiving. I went back to my room and tried to sleep, disturbed. My hero had just crumbled before my eyes. I felt disillusioned and troubled.
Honestly, section 377 didn't literally concern me. Straight as I am, I really don't see why love should be criminal. (I was happy to observe that Supriya Sule said something similar after the judgement. Gives me hope.) So I slept better than any of the people it did concern.
I finally woke up at about 10.30 and switched on the TV again. Everyone (in India, at least) knows what happened next. I found a new bunch of heroes. The Lawyers Collective. Their website doesn't divulge any individual information, so all I know about them are their names - Mr.Anand Grover, Mr.Trideep Pais, Ms.Shivangi Rai and
Ms.Mehak Sethi and Ms.Tripti Tandon, Mr.S.Divan, Mr.V.Khandelwal, Mr.Arvind Narain, Ms.S. Nandini, Mr.Mayur Suresh, Ms.Vrinda Grover and Mr.Jawahar Raja.
A bunch of names. A few pictures. An article in a supplementary magazine that I've filed away. That's all I have that connect me to these people. My new heroes.
My patriotism has been on the wane since November 26th, 2008. I don't know why. I just never got those goose-bumps on listening to Vande Mataram or Jana Gana Mana, anymore. I just didn't feel my heart fly with that flag on Siachen anymore.I stood up out of obligation and politeness, when the national anthem played. I had suffered no personal losses in those acts of terrorism. Yet, I felt a piece of me was missing.
The morning of the 2nd of July, 2009, changed it all. My heart soared when I read the words, "Where society can display inclusiveness and understanding, such persons can be assured of a life of dignity and nondiscrimination. This was the 'spirit behind the Resolution' of which Nehru spoke so passionately. In our view, Indian Constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who the
LGBTs are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual."
From news channels to Facebook status updates, people everywhere (I pride myself on having a liberal bunch of friends) were proclaiming the decision fair and progressive.
There were the others - my ex-hero included - who thought and said differently.There were the 'holy men' and others much closer to home, the few kids who said it was 'unnatural' (brush up your English, darling; if it occured in nature, it's natural), and the parents who agreed.
On the whole, I'd say social outlook hasn't changed that much. I didn't expect it to, either. The generation before this one has been brought up being told that it's 'unnatural' and so on. Gay rights has along way to go in this country. The Central Government has not even announced its stand on the matter, yet. The judgement has already been challenged in the Supreme Court, and the law has not been changed concretely.
My hope lies in this generation. The fact that most of my friends thought it was a move that should've been made long ago hints of a time when prejudice against people on the basis of whom they love, won't (& shouldn't) exist.
Thanks to the Naz foundation, 'Voices against 377' and the lawyers of The Lawyers Collective. Also, the Honorable Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Honorable Justice Dr. S. Murlidhar.
The goose-bumps are back. In pride. India shines, today.
The judgement -
"We declare that Section 377 IPC, insofar it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution.
The provisions of Section 377 IPC will continue to govern non-consensual penile non-vaginal sex and penile non-vaginal sex involving minors.
By 'adult' we mean everyone who is 18 years of age and above. A person below 18 would be presumed not to be
able to consent to a sexual act.
This clarification will hold till, of course, Parliament chooses to amend the law to effectuate the recommendation of the Law Commission of India in its 172nd Report which we believe removes a great deal of confusion.
Secondly, we clarify that our judgment will not result in the re-opening of criminal cases involving Section 377 IPC that have already attained finality.
We allow the writ petition in the above terms."