Many of us scattered across the globe today know what it feels like when a quarter-century-long battle reaches a resolution. After the jolt from the Supreme Court bench of 2013, to hear that “the decision in Koushal today stand overruled” and homosexuality has been decriminalised in India, this is what keeps many of us veterans of long struggles going. Small victories along the side as we tread the path toward living a life with the motto, “None of us are free till all of us are free.”
What we get today from the constitutional bench is not a small victory though. In the direction of realisation of queer rights within which decriminalisation of certain sexual acts is one necessary but far from sufficient step, it is a big victory. It is also a huge step towards assurance in the solidity of the Constitution, towards a belief that the Constitution is a dynamic document that has to be interpreted with changing times, and a clear indication that the court’s duty is to protect the rights of minorities, however minuscule they might be.
These assurances are very essential in today’s India in which lynching is a norm, attack on certain religions, thoughts, and assertions is being normalised, dissent is being quashed and freedoms challenged in the name of national integration and identity. We are facing a liberalised economy where fewer and fewer people have the means to survive, where people are losing access to all natural resources and where the welfare state is slowly and steadily turning into a police state that may call upon every dissenting person with the knock on the door. A constitutional validation from the highest court in times such as these, needs celebration from all citizens.
We got into discussions around Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalised homosexuality, way back in the early ’90s when the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan or ABVA filed its petition in the Delhi High Court and the discussions on child sexual abuse and the amendments to 375 and 376 restarted. In 1995, we did our first signature campaign asking for the reading down of 377. From there to the protests against the jailing of workers of the Bharosa NGO for distribution condoms as part of an AIDS prevention campaign and other happenings over the last 25 years that this case has travelled across courts in Delhi, our life as activists working for queer rights within a feminist and human rights framework have also simultaneously continued.
A quarter century is a long time and like any legal battle, this has its ups and downs, twists and turns. It has been an important part of the queer rights movement but it is just one part of what are rights for queer people and even a smaller part of the spectrum of what are queer rights per se. It has been a way of bringing together many of us and it has also been a way of opening many discussions – in the media, in homes, in schools and colleges, on streets, in marches, in film festivals, in cultural programmes, and in every place that one can think of. Everyone today knows of the battle of 377 because there were many efforts made to have these conversations.
As the judicial battle continued, the world around and within us has also changed. Different identities are now recognised and so are different realities. We are still unravelling the full meanings of queerness even as we continue to fight our queer battles.
The meanings of queerness
For some, queer is just a lifestyle choice whereas for others it is questioning of every normativity. For some, the struggle is to just become or assert that we are like every one else and for others it is not only about not getting subsumed in the normative but also of challenging every kind of normativity including that which may emerge in the queer world. For some the rest of the struggles were not really “ours”, for others there was no queer struggle without actually including other struggles for rights, justice, and equality. For some, the capitalist project was what made their liberal lifestyle possible, for others this was what broke the back of many queer people trying to survive on the streets and without any social capital to back them.
And so of course as we imbibe the full potential of all that has been said in the voluminous judgement of the Supreme Court on Thursday and as we figure out what are the full implications of this massive victory, we know that today the heart rejoices once again. What was ours forever is ours again. There is a recognition of the wrongs done to various people who may have lived in shame and dread and fear and many who did not survive. This was a legal fight for the queer people of today and the future, but also our reparation to the many that went unsung. The words of each of the judges today offer some healing to our hearts and beings. They also provide the much-needed strength to continue these struggles that go on for our freedoms are connected to the freedoms of all.
And finally, those in power and in powerful positions have rarely given us such joy as the Constitutional Bench gave today. We fully appreciate the flavour of this victory, because so much has been taken away, is being taken away every moment otherwise. We wouldn’t mind getting these pleasures more often (since the Constitutional bench is adjudicating on many matters right now). After all, the essence of queerness lies in acknowledging pleasure.
Chayanika Shah is a queer feminist activist and member of the Forum Against Oppression of Women and LABIA – A Queer Feminist LBT Collective. This is a lightly edited version of a post from her Facebook page.
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