My worries are for the large number of Indians who were just beginning to put together a fragile sense of pride, rendered vulnerable by Section 377 all over again.
A few weeks before the Supreme Court ruling on the appeal against the Delhi High Court’s Naz judgment, I met with a client’s anxious parents in my counselling room. When their son told them about his sexuality, they went through an initial period of shock and denial, but came around fairly quickly. Being well-travelled and well-read professionals themselves, they understood that their son’s sexuality was not something they could change, but worried about his future here in India. Will this country let him live peacefully, they asked. Wouldn’t he get discriminated in employment, housing and society in general, let alone marriage or kids, they asked.
I worked with them on their anxieties, reassuring them that India was already changing. I talked to them about the wonderful Naz judgement, its emphasis on constitutional morality, the right to dignity, privacy and, even though the judgement never really uses the word, the right to love. I told them of the number of companies with well articulated anti-discrimination policies, the support groups, the cultural and social spaces mushrooming sully across the country. No reason to worry much, I said, and added how their son would need their love and support even more than before as he went ahead and lived his life as a proud gay man. They went away feeling a lot safer and content in the knowledge that their child could look forward to a full and free life here in India.
Yesterday, when the Supreme Court ruling came, I wondered what they might be thinking, and how let down they must feel that the Apex Court, in one fell swoop, sent this 20-year-old back to being the terrified teenager he was pre-2009, especially given all the immediate reactions on live TV.
I saw Alyque Padamsee say on a channel that he talked to his out gay nephew and told him to stay out of India because he will be arrested if he came here to India. On another channel, someone else talked about her fears over her job now, given she was out as a lesbian. Many more such stories and reactions, all potentially undermining the courage and strength my client had gathered over the last few years to be himself, to live a life of pride and dignity.
I wanted to reach out to my client’s family and tell them not to panic. They did not need to push him to emigrate, or hide, or get back into the closet – and certainly not push him to get married to a woman and deal a double life, as thousands have done in the past and still do, going through the awful guilt and fear of such a life. I wanted to tell them LGBT people lived well even before they had seen the freedom and grace of these four years since Naz, and now there was no going back. Too many have come out and are living proud. He could still, even in the face of this setback, live a good life, safe, secure and happy. There was still a lot of protection – the police were not going to come into their house tomorrow and arrest him based on his Facebook status or a couple of pictures. Sure, this is a big blow to how well he feels about being Indian, but the fight is a good fight and he can overcome. He did not need to fear, nor did they. There is a whole community of people behind him, standing up for him, supporting him.
They may not believe. They might take hope from the huge outpouring of support, even from so many politicians across party lines. Then again, they might worry about the remaining parties and what if these others came to power, how long it might take for change to come through the Parliament. They could take solace in the promised directive to the police on the section 377 – then again, they could look at what is happening in Hassan and be anxious.
And these clients are well-off, educated and connected people. This client will, for the most part, connect with others over the net or in expensive clubs far from the perils of lives that are barely off the streets. What of the less privileged queer people with less accepting families? Only two weeks back, a 20-year-old committed suicide, allegedly after the parents were abusive after the person participated in the pride march. Even with the protections of the Naz judgment, we saw so many suicides, many cases of harassment and extortion. And now, the worry is if this move by the Supreme Court will render a large number of Indians who were just putting together a fragile sense of true Pride, vulnerable again.
As a counsellor, my anxieties are about the welfare of these good people. I want to tell them that their strength lies in being a community, arming themselves with knowledge, knowing that even with 377 in the books, they are not without protection. I want to tell them to find out resources in their town, connect and stay strong for the time it will now take the courts and the legislature to act and decisively so to let love live.