Showing posts with label Gay. India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay. India. Show all posts

February 5, 2019

Dignity For Gay People in India Is Fought Every Day, Is 50 Million Deaths ok?


A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex 
By Siddharth Dube

In 1988, when Siddharth Dube was a deeply in love 26-year-old, the majority of gay men in India concealed their sexual orientation. A colonial-era law, Section 377, criminalized homosexuality, which was defined as an “unnatural” offense. To protect themselves from arrest, many gay men socialized in public parks and toilets under the cover of darkness. As an Americanized journalist just in from New York, Dube was often shielded from the accumulation of traumas that defined the lives of others. With his partner, a Parisian Bharatanatyam dancer, the cool Delhi nights passed in idyllic fashion. Until the night the police called them in.

“The man sitting behind the desk in the muddy-brown uniform of the Delhi police looked at me with such aggressive loathing,” Dube writes in “An Indefinite Sentence,” his heart-stopping memoir of being gay in India and the world. “I thought, momentarily, that he had mistaken me for someone else. … He burst out angrily, almost as if in a rage. ‘You are a homo! You have naked men dancing at your house, exposing themselves. Go back to America! If you want to live here, you will live as an Indian, not like an American!’”

Dube fled. A scholarship at Harvard put him on the path to a career in global health policy, with a special focus on AIDS. “In every way, this was a disease about me,” he explains. “This virus that was intertwined with our essential human longing for sex and love, and with being outlawed, shamed and persecuted.”

From that distance it was easier to assess the things — beautiful and terrible — that had defined life in India. There was the magical childhood in Calcutta with loving parents, private yoga lessons and bedtime stories. But then, from the age of 11, there were the seven years at the Doon School, the elite public school in the Himalayan foothills, where sexual abuse by older students flourished and headmasters cruelly advised victims to “become tougher.” It speaks to the author’s transcendental capacity for forgiveness that he was later able to harness the memories of his abuse into fighting for the human rights of others. “My own suffering seemed less random and unfair,” he writes, “now that I could see so many other people who had also been wrongfully cast out by society.” 

As the AIDS epidemic gathered ferocious momentum in the United States, the activist and author Paul Monette observed, “Death by AIDS is everywhere around me, seething through the streets of this broken land.” Dube responded by living a life of virtual abstinence. Over the next few years he poured himself into work for the United Nations, the World Bank and then Unicef. He published two books, including a deeply reported account of one impoverished family’s life in India.

And so, although this is a personal memoir, it is also a memoir of work. Work helped Dube find himself. And work allowed him to live a life he could be proud of. It’s in combining his personal story with the ravages of AIDS he witnessed that Dube advances the genre of queer memoirs in India. 

The book has precursors. Firdaus Kanga’s novelized account of his life in Bombay, “Trying to Grow” (1991), is one important example. Another is “Because I Have a Voice” (2005), in which the editors Arvind Narrain and Gautam Bhan brought together an indelible set of essays and personal narratives from across the country. At the opposite end of the class spectrum, A. Revathi’s gut-wrenching “The Truth About Me” (2010) recounted the normalized violence facing the country’s hijras — a term for a variety of third gender. But Dube’s return to India in the 1990s, at the height of its AIDS crisis, equipped him to chronicle another vital story. His critical and vivid reporting of the time brings to mind the achievements of David France in “How to Survive a Plague.”

In 1996, doctors in India told The New York Times that the death toll from AIDS could reach 20 million, or even 50 million, by the end of the century. That year, after a group of prostitutes in the southern city of Madras were arrested for solicitation, a researcher working for Dr. Suniti Solomon, the microbiologist credited with pioneering AIDS research in India, drew samples of their blood. The women didn’t know what they had consented to. The six who tested positive for H.I.V. were immediately transported to a government-run reformatory where they were confined to a tiny room. They were refused legal and medical aid and access to their families.

A pattern was set in place. “Forever after in India,” Dube writes, “AIDS was thought of as a disease of women prostitutes merely because the first indigenous cases were detected among them. They were accused of spreading the sexual infection to hapless men, who then spread it to their innocent wives and babies.” On the pretext of protecting the public, human rights abuses became rampant.
Some doctors didn’t just refuse to treat victims; they leaked their status to the media. Prostitutes were imprisoned in such large numbers, the government had to set up makeshift camps to house them. And Hindu supremacist politicians censored any public conversation about sex and sexuality. In 1996, vigilante groups empowered by such politicians burned down movie theaters that screened Deepa Mehta’s film “Fire,” because it focused on a lesbian relationship. The idea that homosexuality is a disease brought to India by Islamic invaders is popular even today. Last September, after the Supreme Court overturned Section 377, a politician from the prime minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party called homosexuality “a genetic disorder, like having six fingers.”

Such statements betray an ignorance of traditional values. “Hindu mythology,” the author Devdutt Pattanaik writes in “Shikhandi,” his retelling of popular myths, “makes constant references to queerness.” A key character in the war epic Mahabharata was born a woman and becomes a man. A great king experiences life as both a man and a woman. And, in an oral retelling of the story of Lord Ram, the Hindu god is so moved by the steadfast devotion of his hijra subjects that he promises, “Never again shall you be invisible.” In the literary history “Same-Sex Love in India” the academic Ruth Vanita reminds us that pre-Islamic texts feature “men and boy prostitutes and dancers who service men … in descriptive, nonjudgmental terms, as normally present in court and in daily life.”

Nationalist politicians, more so than anyone else, should by now be aware that it was the British, with their Victorian prudery, and their fear and distaste of Indians, who criminalized homosexuality. They empowered the police to arrest hijras without a warrant for merely “appearing” to be “dressed or ornamented like a woman.”

By the time of the AIDS crisis, these forms of persecution were widely embedded in Indian society; they forced vulnerable groups to take the lead in the campaign to spread awareness. In Madras, one of the H.I.V.-positive prostitutes isolated at the start of the epidemic started working as a peer educator. In the coastal state of Goa, Dominic D’Souza, a young gay man, fought to dissolve the law that had allowed the state to isolate him in a TB sanitarium after he fell ill. Collectives of prostitutes mushroomed across the country. On one memorable occasion a protest outside Parliament shut down the main streets of the Indian capital. In the time they had, many victims catalyzed transformative change in how the public approached the unprecedented crisis.

By reminding us of their achievements, Dube gives his readers the substantial gift of hope. The sentiment is, in fact, the spine of his memoir. “The impoverished, the reviled and the outcast — whether black or untouchable, whether girly boy, faggot, hijra or whore — never stop fighting for dignity and justice,” he writes. “There is hope in this — undying hope. It makes bearable the most indefinite of sentences.” 


November 15, 2018

Shedding The Closet, Straight Feathers and Talk About Non Existent Girl Friends Gay India Awakens to Freedom

On September 6, a historic victory left India bathed in rainbows when the country's Supreme Court finally overturned an archaic British-era law that pronounced gay sex illegal. While even same sex marriage has been recognized in the United Kingdom for a number of years at this point, homosexuality remained illegal and a crime in India where the colonial era law still stood. 
Following the verdict, Indian stylist Kshitij Kankaria and photographer Ashish Shah decided to shoot a series of brave members of the Indian LGBTQIA community.
In a country where nudity is neither commonplace nor commodity, the act of stripping publicly is often a political one — the same way the act of kissing, of hand holding, of laying in bed together has been political for the community we see here. Their nakedness, one needn't really point out, is a triumph — a dare, and a declaration of freedom. 
The shoot marks their bodies as proudly part of the country, rather than of just one community. Here they stand strong, and look to the future, face their fears even in the wake of this judgement, question, and begin to dream bigger. India might have been hiding her LGBTQIA community, but the queer Indian community has not been bothered about hiding. Even if in the shadows, it has thrived — and here, they celebrate with pride. 
Below, meet eight queer Indians, who reflect on what their country's gay decriminalization means to them. 

Rohan Agnani

"I wonder if this judgement passed by a panel of privileged and aware individuals will actually filter down into society. It will be a true victory the day we are accepted by the masses. A high school boy in rural India probably doesn't know the law is now on his side, so I think acceptance from one's own people, from your own family — that's the battle." – Rohan Agnani 

Photography: Ashish Shah
Styling: Kshitij Kankaria
Hair & Makeup: Saher Ahmed Gandhi
Photography Assistant: Shubham Lodha
Fashion Assistants: Ruhani Singh & Nayanika Kapoor

September 8, 2018

One Thing is to be Gay in Delhi India But in Rural India is Another World

This story was posted on BBC News, Delhi by By Vikas Pandey
The Supreme Court's decision to make gay sex legal in India has been hailed as historic.
But the reality for members of the LGBT community in rural India is different. They believe it will take a long time to change regressive attitudes towards them.
Here three gay people from rural India tell their stories.

Arun Kumar, 28, northern state of Uttar Pradesh

I am really happy with the court's decision. It will help people in cities express themselves without fearing the law. 

Rainbow flag of the LGBT community

But sadly, it's different for people like me who live in villages. 
It's not the law that we fear - what troubles us is people's perception. I hope that the media's coverage of the verdict will help people understand that homosexuality is normal. 
But LGBT people have a long battle ahead of them before they can live without fear. I have lived my whole life in fear and this may not change in the near future.
I was 14 when I realised I was attracted to boys. I was initially confused. I tried not to think about it. But the feeling kept troubling me, so I decided to talk to a friend about it. 
His reaction shocked me. He told me it was disgusting to even think about homosexuality. He started to avoid me and, soon, we barely spoke to each other. For years after that, I never spoke about my sexuality.  
When I felt sad, I would go to the fields and talk to trees and plants. I didn't feel judged and they became my friends. I still talk to them. I was 18 when I moved to a nearby town to go to college. But things didn't change. I was depressed and the world didn't make sense to me.
I always felt guilty but I didn't understand why. I wasn't doing anything bad. I eventually mustered enough courage to tell a teacher, who seemed friendly. But that was a mistake. 
The teacher called my parents and they took me back home. My father was furious. He thought it was a disease that could be cured. He took me to quacks and shamans. They gave me all sorts of concoctions - one of them said I should be locked up in a room for a week. And my father did that. 
I still live in my village but I have been offered a job in a big city. Hopefully, things will change. I want a partner. I want to love and be loved.

Kiran Yadav, 30, eastern state of Bihar

I didn't know anything about section 377 until Thursday. I didn't even know that being homosexual was criminal. I just knew that in rural Bihar, where I come from, I would never be allowed to live as a lesbian woman. 
I am happy with the ruling, but it doesn't help me. I can only hope that it starts a conversation that reaches rural India.
I was 15 when I realised I was a lesbian. Since I was a little girl, I never liked girly clothes. I liked to wear trousers and a shirt - like the boys in my village. 

Illustration of gay person

My parents didn't object. I didn't have a brother, so they thought of me as a son and didn't mind if I dressed up as one. 
But they did not know about my sexual orientation.
To be honest, I didn't know much either. I knew that I was attracted to girls but I also knew that it was not right. So I never told my parents. They still don't know. Nobody close to me knows. During weddings, I often find women attractive but I have never had the courage to speak to them. 
When I turned 20, I had to find a way to express myself. I couldn't discuss these feelings with anyone in the village. But mobile phones came to my rescue. I would dial random numbers and tell strangers my story - anyone at all who cared to listen. When one girl I called told me that she liked my voice, I was elated. It was the first time I had got a compliment from a girl.
These were fleeting moments of happiness. Deep down, I was sad. 
I tried to kill myself when I was 24. My parents thought that I was depressed because I wasn't married. They got me married a few weeks later but it was doomed. Within a year, I was divorced. 
By this time, I had no will to live. Every day was difficult. I have lived 30 years of my life without meeting a partner. Now I just want a job to survive. I have no hope of meeting a partner because I can never openly talk about being a lesbian.

Rahul Singh, 32, Bihar

I welcome the ruling. But section 377 has never been a problem for me. In my village, the police have never harassed anybody because of it. It's society that troubles us.
I knew I was gay when I turned 16. Two years later, I got married. I just couldn't tell my parents or my wife and pretended to be normal. I have two sons now. 

Illustration of gay person

But I deeply regret not telling my wife. She now knows that I am gay but continues to live with me for the children's sake. 
It's hard to find partners. Unlike big cities, there are no gay clubs here. I know a few gay people but they all live in fear of being ostracised if they were to come out. 
People believe that a gay person doesn't have the right to be respected or loved.
It's a difficult life. No matter how nice I am or how much I help people, once they find out I am gay, they run from me.
Some people sympathise with us but they still think it's a disease that needs to treated. Nobody seems to understand why we feel the way we do.  
Living like this can break you. I am always looking over my shoulder. I keep thinking that somebody will walk up to me and slap me or do something nasty because I am gay. 
It's suffocating to be a gay person in rural India.
I fear that my children will be bullied when they grow up. I have already moved once because of this fear. Sometimes, I want to give up but then I think of my children.
When I look back, I wish I had the courage to tell my parents the truth. I wish I hadn't got married. I wish I had access to groups that would have counselled me. 
Names have been changed to protect identities. Illustrations by Puneet Kumar

September 6, 2018

A Landmark Court Decision in India "By Decriminalizing Gay Sex"

New Delhi (CNN)
India's Supreme Court has struck down a colonial-era law criminalizing consensual gay sex, overturning more than 150 years of anti-LGBT legislation.
The court announced the landmark verdict in Delhi on Thursday, as jubilant crowds cheered and rights activists hugged one another, overcome with emotion. 
Section 377, an archaic law imposed during British rule that penalized intercourse "against the order of nature," had carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. 
The decision to repeal the law is a major victory for India's LGBT activists and supporters after years of determined struggle.
    Crowds in Mumbai cheer the Supreme Court announcement.
    "I can't even explain how I am feeling right now. The long battle has been won. Finally we have been recognized by this country," said Bismaya Kumar Raula, wiping away tears outside the court. 
    Others gathered said that, while they had anticipated a positive outcome, the result still came as a shock.  
    "It's an emotional day for me. It's a mix of feelings, it's been a long fight," said rights campaigner Rituparna Borah. "There was not enough media or society support earlier but we have it now. People will not be seen as criminals anymore." 
    Though the law was rarely enforced in full, lawyers argued that it helped perpetuate a culture of fear and repression within the LGBT community. 
    A change in legislation will "create a space of freedom where you can start expecting justice," Danish Sheikh, a law professor at Jindal Global Law School and LGBT advocate, told CNN. 

    Long battle

    Thursday's historic ruling is the culmination of a lengthy and often fraught legal battle for equality in a country where homosexuality remains taboo.
    In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that the ban on consensual gay sex violated fundamental rights. The decision, which only applied to the Delhi region, was quickly overruled by the Supreme Court in 2013, following a petition launched by a loose coalition of Christian, Hindu and Muslim groups.
    In its 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court said that only a "minuscule fraction of the country's population constitute lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders" and it was therefore "legally unsustainable" to repeal the act. 
    During the latest hearings, lawyers representing more than a dozen gay and lesbian Indians questioned the constitutional basis of that earlier ruling. 
    LGBT Indians gear up for possible U-turn on anti-gay laws
    LGBT Indians gear up for possible U-turn on anti-gay laws
    "It was a wrong judgment. It was not legal and it was based wrongly on the tenets of the constitution," said Colin Gonsalves, one of the lawyers representing the current group of petitioners.
    That case was strengthened last year, when the Supreme Court moved to uphold the constitutional right to privacy
    The ruling, which declared sexual orientation to be an "essential attribute of privacy," helped galvanize campaigners. 
    "Last year's ruling eviscerated the 2013 judgment," said Gonsalves. "There is no issue now. There is not much left to argue," he added. Opposition to moves to overturn Section 377 had rested predominately on religious and moral objections. In an interview earlier this year, lawmaker Subramanian Swamy, a prominent member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), described the legalization of gay sex as a "danger to national security" and "against Hindutva."
    Hinduism has traditionally maintained a flexible, non-prescriptive view of sexuality. However, in recent years hardline Hindu groups have taken a more conservative approach.
    In the run up to the judgment, the BJP refrained from taking a public stand, deferring instead to the court.

    Dehumanizing colonial law

    Out of the estimated 48 former British colonies that criminalize homosexuality, 30 still have laws based on the original colonial anti-LGBT legislation, according to Lucas Mendos, co-author of the 2017 International LGBTI Association "State-Sponsored Homophobia" report.
    In the case of India, the original British law had remained in place more or less unchanged since it was introduced by British colonizers in the 1860s. 
    According to India's National Record Bureau, more than 2,100 cases were registered under the law in 2016. India did not maintain a separate database of prosecution under section 377 until 2014.
    Arif Jafar, one of the current group of petitioners whose case the Supreme Court ruled on, was arrested in 2001 under Section 377 and spent 49 days in jail. 
    Supporters in Mumbai react to the Supreme Court ruling that gay sex is no longer a criminal offense.
    Jafar now runs an informal support group in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The group, named "Trust," provides counseling, support and sexual health services to gay and transgender persons.
    In his petition, Jafar described the experience as dehumanizing and a violation of his fundamental rights. He also alleged that he was beaten and humiliated every day because of his sexuality. 
    Campaigners in India pointed out that the law didn't only trap members of the LGBT community in the closet, it also invited other forms of discrimination, providing a cover for blackmail and harassment. 
    Members of India's LGBT community dance in celebration after the ruling was announced in Bangalore on Thursday.
    "The constant fear of 377 we have felt will not be there for the coming generation," said Yashwinder Singh, of Mumbai-based LGBT rights group The Humsafar Trust. 
    "Laws getting passed is one thing but changing the society is a big challenge," said Singh of the court's decision, Thursday. 
    "Our work has started multifold now. We have to go and talk to people and change their mindset so that they accept every human as one." 
    Following the announcement Thursday, the Congress Party, the country's main opposition, posted a message of congratulations on social media, welcoming the "progressive and decisive verdict" from the Supreme Court.
    As supporters celebrate the decision, activists will now be shifting focus to the broader issue of equality. 
    People celebrate the decision in Bangalore on September 6.
    "The next step is to start looking at issues of rights. Right now, it is just decriminalizing," Anjali Gopalan, founder of the Naz Foundation, which has spearheaded the fight against Section 377, told CNN.
    "The right that every citizen of the country should have access to and should not be taken for granted. Like the right to marry, the right to adopt, the right to inherit. Things that no one questions and that are clearly denied to a certain section of citizens."

    July 27, 2018

    When Reporting About Gay Rights in India Gets Very Personal

     Supreme Court, India


    NEW DELHI — For over 150 years, a law called Section 377 has imposed up to a life sentence in prison on “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” Section 377 is vaguely worded, an archaic law introduced by British colonizers with stiff, Victorian morals. Essentially, it criminalizes gay sex in India.

    Over the last six months, my reporting has taken me across the country to understand how the law works officially and unofficially, as a cover for blackmailing, harassing and sexually assaulting gay and transgender Indians. In the coming days, India’s Supreme Court is expected to rule on the law’s constitutionality.

    During July hearings in a packed courtroom, lawyers read from moving petitions filed by dozens of L.G.B.T. Indians who are challenging the law. In minute detail, they described the challenges of living openly here, demanding their right to love. 

    One evening, as hearings wound down, a wave of emotion caught me off guard at home in Delhi. I realized I had become a part of the story.

    I am a gay man reporting on gay rights in India. But I am also invisible in many situations, asking the questions but never answering them. As a journalist, I struggled with my own place in the narrative.

    Three years ago, when I left New York City for South Asia to give journalism a try, I barely thought about the consequences of moving to a part of the world where sex between men is illegal. The longer I stayed, the more I felt unsettled.

    Forty-five million people populate Delhi and its suburbs. Assuming five or 10 percent of the population is gay, the community should reach into the millions. But attend Delhi’s annual pride parade or stop by one of just a few L.G.B.T. organizations in the city — you will realize how few people are out.

    In part, I volunteered to cover gay rights in India because I wanted to know: Where were all the gay men?  

    Finding sources willing to speak with me was challenging. I contacted the groups working on L.G.B.T. issues in India and asked if they knew of anyone who had been targeted by Section 377. The answer was almost always the same: The people they knew would not speak on the record, or were caught in legal binds, or were simply afraid. The risks of family ostracism, extortion or police involvement weighed on many people’s minds.

    Posting in closed Facebook groups for L.G.B.T. Indians sometimes worked. Several men privately messaged me, saying they were comfortable with part of their names being published. To my surprise, it was easier speaking to people in villages than in cities. One lower-income gay man, who lived alone in a shoebox room in India’s interiors, defiantly told me he had nothing left to lose. In the last year, he had been raped several times, he said.

    Traveling around the country, I found that progressiveness on the issue did not necessarily predict progressive mores on others. In a rural patch of central India, a transgender woman told me she planned to break up with her boyfriend because “he should marry a woman of the same caste.” Later, in a city a few hundred miles away, a gay man ran his fingers along my arm and remarked on the whiteness of my skin, saying he wished he were fairer; it was more attractive, he said.

    When my questions were perceived as too pointed, I was told to worry about my own country’s problems. After I met a police superintendent leading sensitization training in a nearby district, I informed him that transgender locals often felt unsafe approaching law enforcement officials. Clearly irritated, he posed a question: “Aren’t transgender people all in the mafia in the United States?”

    As I dug in, I weighed whether to reveal my sexuality in interviews, looking for ways to set people at ease, but also wondering whether the idea was connected to my own loneliness. Section 377 thwarts the formation of supportive communities — it is not uncommon for cops to demand bribes from party organizers at the few clubs in Delhi that hold events for the gay community.

    The loneliness was jarring. Many nights, I stared at the ceiling and cried. I wondered if other people here felt the same way. Through my reporting, I realized some of them did.

    Among the more affecting interviews was one with a young man who went by A., his first initial. In conversations that lasted for hours over text, Facebook and in person, A. recalled the night in 2014 when he was drugged and raped by two men at the bare-bones hostel of a medical college. 

    A. decided not to report the crime, fearing that he, too, would be arrested.

    After we met in Delhi, A. asked that I keep his identity confidential. In a country of 1.3 billion people, he hesitated to let me use even his first initial, whispering stories of gruesome hate crimes and the fear that his own parents would “literally kill me” if they found out he had been raped.

    Over several months, I fact-checked details of A.’s story, and asked how he was doing. He never revealed much about himself, telling me he did not want to have extended contact with somebody who knew about the rape. But when I asked A. why he had decided to speak out, his answer was one that has lingered.

    “People should know that bad thing happen,” he said.
    A version of this article appears in print on July 24, 2018, on Page A2 New York Times

    July 13, 2018

    India Court Says Homosexuality is Not an Aberration Expected to Rule on(gay) Sex

    NEW DELHI - Gay people in India face deep-rooted trauma and live in fear, the Supreme Court said on Thursday before deciding whether or not to scrap a colonial-era ban on homosexuality.
    A five-judge bench made the comments while hearing a challenge to the ban, which the top court reinstated in 2013 after a four-year period of decriminalization. 
    Gay sex is considered taboo by many in socially conservative India, and despite opposition to lifting the ban from other petitioners and some lawmakers, activists were hopeful of a positive judgment after Thursday’s hearing.
    “(Homosexuality) is not an aberration, but a variation,” said Justice Indu Malhotra. “Because of family pressures and societal pressures, they are forced to marry the opposite sex and it leads to bi-sexuality and other mental trauma.” 
    The homosexuality law, commonly known as “Section 377,” prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” -- which is widely interpreted to refer to homosexual sex. Gay sex is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
    A lawyer for the government said that it would leave it to “the wisdom” of the court to decide the constitutional validity of Section 377. 
    Lawyers for petitioners seeking to scrap the 157-year-old law have argued that sexual orientation is an intrinsic part of individual identity.
    “This law has created utter chaos,” Ashok Desai, a lawyer for one of the petitioners, told the court. Desai also argued that homosexuality was not alien to Indian cultural traditions, making a reference to a transgender character in the Mahabharata, an Indian epic.
    Subramanian Swamy, a prominent lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, said this week that homosexuality was unnatural and against Hindu nationalism.
    The court will resume hearing arguments from groups which support the homosexuality ban on Tuesday.

    July 11, 2018

    Gay Sex Could Be Decriminalized For 1.3 Billion People

     India Supreme Court

    NEW DELHI — India could be on the brink of repealing a 157-year-old law that criminalizes gay sex in what is one of the world’s largest and longest-running LGBT legal battles.
    On a sweltering Tuesday afternoon in a courtroom so full people barely had space to turn round, a bench of five judges from India’s highest court began hearing arguments against a law known as Section 377, which was introduced under British rule in 1861 and states that all sexual activity apart from heterosexual intercourse is “against the order of nature.”
    If the Supreme Court judges strike down the law it would transform gay rights in a country of more than one billion people.
    But the ruling could have huge repercussions in other countries — particularly the Commonwealth, an association of countries made up mostly of former territories of the British Empire — where LGBT activists are fighting similar legal battles against colonial-era penal codes
    Akhilesh Godi, a 25-year-old petitioner from Hyderabad who travelled to New Delhi for the hearing, told BuzzFeed News that making legal history was exciting, but that was not his primary goal. “I came out in my early twenties, and it took me a long time to understand what that even meant,” he said. “I battled severe mental health issues and depression, even went on medication. But I feel stronger now.”
    Godi, an ex-student of the Indian Institute of Technology, (a prestigious university that is India’s version of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) said that as a result of filing the petition as part of a group of 20 students, he has been able to discuss his sexual orientation freely with his colleagues — and is now in the process of helping them set up an employee resource group that is inclusive of LGBT people.
    “What I want more than anything else is for other educational institutes to set up support groups and safe spaces for young queer people like me, that are confused and perhaps battling similar mental health troubles.” 
    The list of petitioners includes well known figures such as dancer Navtej Johar, trans activist Akkai Padmashali, chef Ritu Dalmia, and a hotelier named Keshav Suri.
    But there are also petitioners representing the broad spectrum of society and queer experience, such as HIV activist Gautam Yadav and Arif Jaffar, a 47-year old man who was sent to police custody and tortured for over a month for his sexual orientation under Section 377. (Jaffar has been fighting a separate case against the officers that arrested him for the last 18 years).

    A significant proportion of the petitioners against Section 377 are men – in part, this is due to the social stigma all expressions of female desire carry in India, but also because according to senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, the law penalizes men far more often: "Section 377 in our country will affect mostly men even though the section appears sex-neutral," he said during arguments in court.
    Activists say the most hopeful part of this latest fight against Section 377 is that it is no longer limited to allies or members of the community standing in as proxies for others who are too afraid to come out.   
    The petitioners from IIT, nearly all of whom are below 30 years of age, are scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, researchers, and business owners who describe themselves as the children of farmers, teachers, homemakers and government servants. The 17 men, 2 women and one trans woman described the impact of Section 377 on their lives to the court on Tuesday.
    “People think coming out as gay is some kind of happy ending, but it’s not,” Anwesh Pokkuluri said, as the court broke for lunch. “Even after you muster up the courage to speak with your parents or maybe your siblings, there’s still people at work, people you meet socially, or landlords...and as a result of 377, you never know how they will react to the news of you being gay.” 
    Despite this, Pokkuluri said he was eager to join the petition because he is relatively more privileged than others in his home town in Kakinada, in Southern India. “If not me, then who? When I explained my decision to my parents in this way, they understood.”

    Other petitioners — despite the fact that they were now part of Indian legal history at the country’s highest court – were still to discuss the matter of sexual orientation with their families. One of them, Krishna Reddy Medikonda said that if his parent learnt about his orientation “through this fight,” that was probably the best way for them to find out. “In a way, you could say I’m hoping for that,” he said, breaking into laughter.

    Being treated as “unconvicted felons” (the term senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi used to describe the plight of LGBT people in India) has meant that billions of people have been unable to access sex education and seek medical and legal assistance when required. Despite having received scholarships to some of the most elite institutions in the country, the petitioners from IIT said that they frequently considered leaving India for a country where same-sex love was not treated as criminal. Their petition cites Section 377 as one of the major reasons for a “brain drain” from India.
    But there were also some pleasant surprises — as the day's proceedings drew to a close, Romel Baral, a 25-year-old from Bengaluru who studied at IIT Guwahati and is presently employed at Goldman Sachs, said that his employers were actually the main reason he felt empowered to join the petition. “I knew I would have to admit it some day, I always imagined what it would be like — but seeing how inclusive and warm my colleagues were made it really easy for me to talk about my sexual orientation. When I told them why this law needs to change and why I need to be part of the petition – they told me to make them proud!”
    Hearings into the Section 377 petitions will take place over the coming weeks.
    Nishita Jha
    Nishita Jha

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