Mr Modi, please note: Queer people are standing up for their rights
This day a year ago, the Supreme Court upheld Section 377 that criminalises any form of 'unnatural' sexual behaviour. An open letter appeals that there is no second anniversary of the court order.
Dear Mr Modi,
I write to you today as we complete one year of the Supreme Court having rolled back basic human rights for a section of the population of a country you represent as Prime Minister. This day last winter, the highest court in the land upheld Section 377 of the Indian Penal code that criminalises any form of 'unnatural' sexual behaviour. The court's ruling meant that India's (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) people didn't deserve the right to live without fear of legal persecution since they made up only a minuscule minority of the population. It upheld a 150-year-old Victorian law that has been repealed in its parent country, saying it is the job of a majoritarian institution like the Parliament to confirm the fundamental rights of citizens, and not the court.
In this one year, I am proud to say Mr Modi, queer people have emphatically refused to go back into the closet and more people than ever have been out on the streets demanding their rights. Pride parades have marched not just in the metros, but in smaller cities like Baroda and Kochi. Schools and colleges have queer groups that are working towards gender and sexuality justice among the young generation. From literature to popular culture to cinema to music, queer people who have taken the centrestage have refused to fade into the background.
At the same time, Mr PM, what the court refused to understand was that a provision like Section 377 is a tool of coercion, blackmail and torture that denies basic dignity of existence for the queer community. That only 200 people have been booked under the section is irrelevant, because the presence of Section 377 renders underprivileged populations vulnerable to police oppression.
More than 800 cases of violence against transpeople and hijras have been registered since January alone. Last month, 167 transgenders in Bengaluru were picked up and put in a beggars colony arbitrarily and against their will. Rural regions also regularly report cases of harassed lesbians, transpeople ending their lives, unable to bear the pressure that a partriarchal society puts on them. From cities, reports about forced marriages falling apart--most recently from Bengaluru--must be fresh in your mind.
You've often talked about the importance of making society safe for women, but Mr PM, it's crucial to understand that the same patriarchal set-up that oppresses women also discriminates against queer people and inflicts violence against Dalit youth attempting inter-caste marriage, among others.
In your seven months in office, you have announced a raft of measures to resuscitate the economy, which you say is why the Indian public elected you. But India also elected you to uphold the Constitution and guarantee fundamental rights to all its people, regardless of how small a section they might constitute. What does GDP growth matter to the individual who has been denied the basic right to live with dignity by their own court and government? Is middle-class growth really more important?
This is to not say that there is no hope. The same Supreme Court's judgment recognising transgenders as a third gender has given new hope to the queer people that their . As I write this, people are fighting for queer rights in court, on the roads, on the theatre stage, in cinemas, in academic spaces and in areas of daily work.
We are long past the stage where society thought LGBTQ people have to beg for their rights--we stand together with other underprivileged caste, class, gender, disability rights groups, fighting against oppression from both the state and the society. Our only hope is that you will acknowledge this fight and grant us what is our due.
You often talk about improving India's image in the world and so must be aware of the kind of criticism India receives for criminalising its own people. The countries whose economy you admire much also have robust pro-LGBT policies and I hope your government emulates them.
Earlier this year, you launched a Swachh Bharat campaign, where you aimed to clean India of visible filth. But dirt, Mr Modi, can also be invisible--the kind that pollutes our justice system, using the same institutions that are supposed to protect the vulnerable to oppress them. This is the filth of patriarchy, of a 1860 law that governs people's sexual and personal lives. Surely, sir, one cannot liberalise the economy without liberalising the mind?
Today, thousands of people across the country would be protesting against the Supreme Court decision--telling the judges that privacy, human dignity and the right to bodily integrity and sexual autonomy is non-negotiable.
We only hope that you take note of these demonstrations, and strike down the law. I know that the ideological parent of your party, the RSS, on whose rolls your name still figures, has very staunch views about queer people but please remember that as PM, you represent me as much as the homophobe bent on denying me my rights.
I hope, sir, that we never have to celebrate a second anniversary of the draconian judgment and either the government or the courts realise that Section 377 cannot be justified anymore. Because sir, history has made a choice on queer rights and the homophobes and oppressors are squarely on the wrong side.
A queer person.