The Delhi High Court judgment on the LGBTQ community is a step closer to a life of dignity

Attitudes can be moulded and mind sets transformed by even subtle but progressive changes in the law. In July 2009, the Delhi High Court decriminalized consensual gay sex by revoking the archaic Section 377. This landmark decision has led to a gradual but steady acceptance of sexual minorities by society, concludes a recent study. Ensuring greater self-confidence for the community, it has already brought them one step closer to living with dignity, states a report by Centre for Health, Law, Ethics and Technology (CHLET) at the Jindal Global Law School.

The Supreme Court has begun the hearings on a bunch of petitions challenging the HC judgment in the case between Naz Foundation and the Union of India. On Wednesday, Justice GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhyay asked a petitioner, “So who is the expert to say what is ‘unnatural sex'? The meaning of the word has never been constant. We have travelled a distance of 60 years. Now it is test-tube babies, surrogate mothers. They are called discoveries. Is it in the order of nature? Is there carnal intercourse?”

Even before the Supreme Court passes its final judgment on the constitutionality of Section 377 in the Indian Penal Code, the HC verdict has boosted the self-acceptance and confidence of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Queers (LGBTQ), according to the study.

“There is a difference. There is a lot of change. Now we feel braver and can speak up for our rights, even against police. We are not scared of police like before.” Some respondents also reported that they could now argue with the police since they know there is no section 377 in the law books any more.

Though most respondents felt more emotionally secure and positive, there were mixed responses as far as police harassment is concerned. While some felt that police harassment had substantially reduced among MSM (men who have sex with men) outreach workers, they pointed out that it had only to some extent reduced amongst Hijras and Kothis.

A programme co-ordinator with an NGO was not optimistic about any change following the judgment. He said, “After the judgment, police harassment has not reduced much. Four-five months ago, my friend and I were in his car. We were not doing anything. The police came and started knocking on the door of the car because the car had been parked on the side. They accused us of having sex.” However, on a more optimistic note another respondent stated, “Police does not trouble me as much after the judgment as they did earlier. The media supports us.”

All in all, it was found that though police harassment had reduced significantly in certain areas of Delhi, in other areas it continues unabated.

Wide media coverage of the Naz Foundation judgement and the queer pride march and movies like Dostana have also helped in changing societal perception of homosexuals, according to some respondents. People are treating them with respect and there has been a change in thinking also, said one.

As far as familial acceptance is concerned, the judgment seems to have made little or no impact. Most respondents from the community said that they would still not disclose their identities to their families and some others who had in the past were discriminated against. One of them said, “I cannot even go home as my sister has to get married. I feel that there should be an environment in which we can live more openly. Parents play a huge role in discriminating. Even they tease. Why should I be blamed because I do not get attracted to girls? There has to be anti-discrimination laws to protect us and then families will be more accepting.”

“Studies in the past in countries like Australia and South Africa have observed that jurisdiction with anti-sodomy laws have seen lower self-esteem amongst homosexuals, while jurisdiction with decriminalization of homosexuality has observed greater self-acceptance and confidence. This was confirmed through the interviews,” said lead author of the study Professor Dipika Jain, a Harvard law graduate, and Assistant Professor at CHLET.

Keywords: LGBTQhomosexuality