To love, live and laugh

Azadi. Swatantrata. Mukti. These three words are found in many of our languages and each word has a different valence, connected though they are. In English, which is also very much an Indian language, the equivalent words take on slightly different hues: Freedom; Independence; Relief/Release. The Supreme Court’s judgment, which finally sends a large part of Section 377 to the wrecker’s yard, brings all these words to the fore, all of them pulsating around each other like some constellation of core molecules.

At first glance, azadi seems to be the most obvious word to use. Azadi — the freedom, now protected by law, to be who you are as an adult individual, with your sexual orientation now entirely your private business, reduced to the same level of importance as how you choose to part your hair or in which style you choose to wear your sari. Freedom to desire whoever you want, from whichever point of the gender spectrum, to consensually love and pleasure yourself and others as you wish, and the freedom to think, speak, write, paint and sing about all this openly. Closely connected to this azadi is mukti: as much as the Supreme Court’s judgment unleashed joy and elation, it also in equal measure set off a wave of relief and release — release from the juridical yoke of ancient, fearful and repressive ghosts, release from always having to walk on eggshells, from your body always policing itself from the inside, from your eyes automatically self-censoring your gaze, release from imposed and internalised shame, release, hopefully soon, from institutionalised second-class citizenship under the trample of the heteronormative majority.

Connected struggles

Swatantrata, independence. This third twinning is a little trickier, for the idea of independence takes us from individual freedoms to collective ones, and from one kind of freedom to a connected set of freedoms.

Yes, it’s a time to celebrate. It’s the moment to grab this substantial bit of good news and dance with it in defiance of these bleak times. And if we hold that these times will pass, it’s also an opportunity to take our exultation and use that to power the other connected struggles in which we are engaged, those of us who believe that all Indian adults should be able to love, live and laugh as equals, no matter what our background, our gender or our sexual orientation. As people involved in the long struggle for LGBTQ rights have already pointed out, the Section 377 verdict is nothing if not connected to the protection of our other rights and freedoms.

There are many people who will be dismayed at this reinforcing of the great initial 2009 verdict by Delhi High Court Justices A.P. Shah and S. Muralidhar, a judgment that clearly pushed Section 377 to the brink of the rubbish bin. The forces that fear sexual freedoms, that wanted to keep hold of a reactionary Victorian English colonial statute in order to harass ordinary people, cut across party lines, across religious slottings and across ethnicities. There was a reason why, despite his quite brave attempts, Shashi Tharoor could not get the Lok Sabha to even discuss a new law which would have overturned Section 377 legislatively. Legal protection is now given to the idea that people can love each other and have carnal relations as they please. This outcome will give ulcers not just to the RSS sarsanghchalak but also to the conservative mullah and the Catholic padre. The fact that a judgment has been produced that can begin to cure Indian society of an affliction like Baba Ramdev (who claimed he could ‘cure’ homosexuality through yoga) will disturb not only charlatan sadhu-babas but also many conservative, rationalist heterocrats. Nor have all political parties welcomed this landmark judgment. Just as the BJP government has been conspicuously silent on this issue, so also there is no peep out of the Trinamool Congress or the Bahujan Samaj Party. Even as we speak, no doubt various backroom boys are doing their sums, trying to project the profit and loss of vote banks if their party supports or rejects this verdict.

A building block

So, even as we celebrate, let’s not get overoptimistic. Just as different parties have been authors and fans of acts like the ghastly Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, votaries of shutting down dissent and imprisoning critics, eager to ravage the environment to please their oligarch funders, so also in this case powers that be or wannabe will be figuring out ways of reversing this judgment for short-term political gains. Just as we know we can never take democracy or freedom of speech for granted, we should be aware that this judgment is but a building block on which we must soon place other firm victories in gender equality, health care, education and so many other areas. We must retrieve our complex and contradictory history from the hands of the deadly simplifiers and distorters. Even as we dance, we must never forget that azadi, mukti and swatantrata are, and will always be, works in progress.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 5:39:52 AM |

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