SC verdict on Section 377 won't end fight against inequality; love is as much about caste, class and religious struggle
The years-long fight against Section 377 talks deeply about caste-class networking among lawyers, who while choosing to be in opposition to Hadiya, or rape law reforms, still get to claim their solidarity for queer love
The judgment had come out in the morning. Slightly chilly, on Friday the 13th, I was anxious for a different reason — it was my sister’s wedding. As the news channel repeatedly flashed 'Supreme Court upholds Section 377 IPC' on 13 December 2013, in a room with my entire family gathered, eating breakfast, there was an awkward silence.
Suddenly my grandfather commented, “This is really good. These people deserve this” and few relatives here and there, with mouths full of food, nod vigorously in agreement.
Immediately my sister and I looked at each other. Rolling my eyes, I showed a middle finger in the direction of my grandfather only for my sister to see (she was the only one at that time I was ‘officially’ out to). She shrugged it off as if to say ‘don’t do drama today. It is my wedding day’. That day continued, in celebration of my sister’s wedding and me running around doing brotherly duties (because, you know, ‘ladkiwale’) while stealing glances here and there at the judgment on my phone.
Almost two years later, in November 2015, I stood, along with two other Dalit and queer individuals on the stage in Delhi Pride Parade and said that ‘queer’ and ‘caste’ aren’t so isolated from each other. We said that for lot of us, coming out was not just about our sexuality but about our castes too. In the middle of the speech, I looked up and noticed a few feet away, a very well-known LGBT activist in the audience. He looked in our direction, rolled his eyes and showed us the middle finger. And in that moment I thought, ‘God, I can’t wait to do drama!’
I am sure the two-decade-long journey of decriminalisation of sexual intercourse between consenting adults of same sex under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code for most Indians has been very surreal. When we hear ‘landmark’ decisions coming from the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court, we only see them from the same camera angles talking to lawyers outside the court lawns or read about them with an attached stock image of the Court’s building.
For people who don’t wear black and white, who don’t have access to these halls and rooms, who are not privy to discussions amongst the activists and lawyers deliberating the future of LGBT movement (!), or to community consultations, often the text of the judgment, opinion pieces and news channel interviews become the only ways of feeling intimate with a journey we are so physically far away from. But I am not here to write about the text of the decision gone by and the one that has come. I am here to tell you that for many, who were never meritorious enough to qualify as one of the petitioners, or celebrity-professionals, or who can’t afford to hide the visibility of their sexuality behind their respectable professions, or who didn’t have the appropriate surname to be included in the ever inclusive queer collectives, the relationship with Section 377 was about everything but the expected fight of/for sexuality.
The fight for love is as much as about caste, class and religion as it is about gender, sexuality. How do we draw lines between all of them?
From being told that we must not sideline the issue of LGBT rights by forcing in the discussion of caste, that middle finger shown while articulating the urgency of caste-sexuality becomes more than just one person. It becomes the denial of people who refuse to fence their own desires in just one coherent demand. It becomes the silencing of people who are fighting to undo years and years long humiliation without upholding or living up to any upper caste history or legacy.
What is at stake when upper caste queers become the symbol of injustice in a country marked by extreme caste, religious and wealth inequalities? What does it mean when a right-wing LGBT activist dismisses interventions made by queer-Muslims in our country for diluting the movement and who at the same time justifies it by claiming to have intimate sexual encounters with Muslim man? How are we gearing up for the saffron taking over every other colour we live for? Are we ready to deal with the consequences of this litigation ending in this particular moment of heightened government surveillance, increased State-sanctioned police arrests and violence and not to mention fearless mobs targeting, shooting and lynching of particular castes and religious identities? Is 377 just that then... about our capabilities and ambitions to indulge in ‘non penile-vaginal intercourse’?
Without discounting the tough negotiations so many people have traversed through, and acknowledging the ones who will never end up being the star litigants and individuals whose violent experiences (particularly people from 'lower' castes, classes, and trans people) became the basis for the hard-working, scholarship-winning, upper caste lawyers to ride on and become the champions spearheading the LGBT movement in India, this moment is perhaps an easy one to align with. Granted that many younger generations of queer individuals like me can even say the word ‘fuck’ (without needing any context!) in institutions thanks to the tremendous and unparalleled work countless individuals have done, this moment becomes much more than consent, privacy and dignity. This overwhelming, sad and tumultuous 377 journey becomes as much about upper caste lawyers desperately trying to represent what desi/Indian queer is. It speaks deeply about caste-class networking among lawyers, who while choosing to be in opposition to Hadiya, or rape law reforms, still get to claim their solidarity for queer love. It screams about careful strategies by the government which owns credit for LGBT revolution yet shut its doors for a queer one.
This day marks a changing moment in our collective memories indeed, but know that it is not the start of ‘beyond 377 narratives’ because we never needed the collective LGBT movement’s permission to speak of our undefinable, multiple identities. We never needed the ‘aha’ moment of recognition of intersectional politics to hold our narratives. We never needed entry into your houses only to realise that our lower castes were meant for representative value only. We never needed your validation just to be told later that our stories, our truth needs to be cut short because it doesn’t fit the law. We never needed our identities to be used and re-used for your viral tweets.
And before you hurl your well-rehearsed sentence about Ambedkar’s constitutional morality to prove your allegiance with anti-caste politics at me, let me just say, my satrangi saathi, YOU never represented us, or spoke for us and never will.
The author is a human rights lawyer based in Delhi and currently pursuing his PhD in Social Anthropology at Cornell University. He has been involved with queer and anti-caste activism and writes about love, desires at Desi-underground-gay.com and tweets @Mujhe_baksh_do
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