A little over two months after the Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling on the legality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with any sex “against the order of nature”, queer rights activists are anything but despondent.
Hitching on a global Youtube phenomenon, online pride group Gaysi has uploaded a video called ‘Happy in Gaysi Land’. Gaysi, the website says, is short for ‘Gay Desi’. The song features out and proud queers dancing with abandon to the Pharrell Williams song ‘Happy’ in locations across Mumbai. In the background, someone holds up a placard saying ‘#No Going Back’.
The song, which is from the soundtrack of the 2013 animated film ‘Despicable Me 2’, inspired hundreds of covers of people dancing to it in cities around the world, from Amman and Fes to Toronto and New York. It did not, however, identify with any cause.
“It became popular when the Supreme Court judgment was just freshly out,” said Sherlock Homo, the director of the video who wanted to be identified by her pseudonym. “We thought we could do a spin on it for queer rights and tell everyone that no matter what, you can’t take away our sense of happiness.”
Harish Iyer, an activist and friend of the ‘Gaysi Family’ who also features prominently in the song, agreed. “The video is extremely important to tell people we are not sad, we are not victims and we are not a cause,” he said. “We are happy. It is important to say that.”
This is the first time some of the dancers in the video have identified as being gay. “One problem with making a video of this kind is that not many people are willing to put their faces on camera,” said Sherlock Homo. “The Supreme Court judgment did put some people back into the closet, but there is also a wave of people who came out, saying it is not fair that the court says they don’t exist. Ultimately, they feel the need to be vocal and heard.”
Pallav Patankar of the Humsafar Trust, a Mumbai-based NGO for LGBT rights, also danced for the video, although this is certainly not his first public appearance. “So many kids were under some sort of dark cloud after the judgment,” he said. “Somebody had to tell them it’s not the end of the world. Everything does not necessarily have to be about a dharna, nor do we have to jhadu everything.”
He knows, however, that their legal options are almost at an end for now. The Supreme Court has already refused to hear a review petition of the judgment, and a curative petition, which allows the court to correct serious judicial flaws, is still pending.
“A lot of the people in the community feel we depended too much on judicial system,” Patankar said. “We should have engaged in a parallel manner with political system. This is a time of reflection for all of us as to what do we do next and it will have to be a multi-pronged approach.”
Gautam Bhan, a petitioner in the original Naz Foundation case, believes there are three major goals at hand. One is the legal aspect, which is already being pursued. The community also needs to frame the challenge in broader terms so that discrimination becomes more visible. The third is to blunt the edge of this discrimination.
“The key issue here is to prevent the daily lives of people from being marked by discrimination,” he said. “Even if the law remains on the books, our goal should be to build social structures to thwart it from functioning as a tool for discrimination. We also need peer support and crisis intervention so that people have somewhere to turn to if they do face troubles.”
“In one sense, the worst has happened,” said Bhan. “The atmosphere now is overwhelmingly one of support. There is a generation that came of age after 2009 that is freer, less afraid and can absorb the Supreme Court setback.”
Organisations are now working towards educating the queer community about their rights. They also want to politicise queer people and to have them ask political candidates whether they support gay rights.
“Manifestos for 2014 are still open,” said Patankar. “We would like to put Section 377 there. We will write letters to all the parties and see how they respond. Accordingly, we will tell people which parties take their rights seriously and leave it to them to decide whom to vote for.”
One of the community’s longer term goals is to have a blanket anti-discrimination law that covers everything from caste to religious discrimination, said Arvind Narrain, an advocate at the Alternative Law Forum.
“We need to prepare people that this will take a long time, but it doesn’t mean we don’t work toward it,” Narrain said. “We can file a case with fresh petitioners. We will come back again before the court.”
As the song says, clap along if you feel like that's what you want to do.
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