#Sexuality

You Can’t Pray The Gay Away: India’s Queer Community Reacts To Madras HC’s Landmark Judgment

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Madras HC LGBTQIA judgment: The sky is splashed rainbow. A ripple of colours runs through the country. Cheers of love resound on our timelines. On June 7, a single bench of Justice Anand Venkatesh ruled for the protection, inclusion and empowerment of India’s queer community in a historic judgment passed by the Madras High Court.

It comes as a huge win for the country’s LGBTQIA population and its allies who already had their flags raised in celebration of Pride Month. The court order directs multi-level positive reform in the direction of securing long-awaited rights and dignified living for those who live within, on the edge or beyond the boundaries of gender and sexual orientation.

“Ignorance is no justification for normalising any form of discrimination,” Justice Venkatesh observed. Only two months ago, during the hearing of an appeal seeking protection for a young lesbian couple, he had volunteered to undergo psycho-educative sessions to shed any prejudices and biases he harboured for the queer community.

That a judiciary representative in power pledged responsibility for his perspective, by itself, came as a wonderful sign of changing times.

“I realised, after a one-on-one interaction with the Petitioners, that it was I (us), who has to set off on a journey of understanding them and accepting them and shed our notions, and not they who have to turn themselves inside out to suit our notions of social morality and tradition,” Justice Venkatesh held on Monday.

madras hc lgbtqia judgment

Via SheThePeopleNEWS / Instagram

Faraz Arif Ansari, director of short film Sheer Qorma and a prominent queer icon, tells SheThePeople that though there are still far roads to travel, the Madras HC’s judgment gives a colourful kick to a conversation that has been overdue.

Calling it a “thing of beauty and immense power,” they say, “In a working democracy, there is no place for discrimination based on someone’s identity — be it their faith, sexual orientation or gender identities. I’m so glad to see Madras HC’s progressive, much-needed stance towards bringing dignity and safeguarding the lives of Indian queer citizens. Bravo! Also, this happening in Pride Month has given all of us more reasons to celebrate.”

The groundless, pseudoscientific culture of conversion therapy has been among the severest defenders of hostility towards queer persons in India. Last year, 21-year-old Anjana Hareesh died in Goa, allegedly by suicide, after her parents sought conversion therapy for her when she came out as bisexual to them. The Madras HC in its judgment has now directed a ban on any attempts to “cure” or “convert” people from the orientations of their choice.

“As a queer person from the conservative state of Mizoram, I see this as great progress and I hope many more states follow. Conversion therapy is extremely popular in religious environments and I hope parents and authorities realise that you can’t just pray the gay away. It has never worked and it never will,” Ruth Chawngthu, co-founder of Nazariya: A Grassroots LGBT-Straight Alliance, says.

Madras HC LGBTQIA Judgment Brings Pride Tide Amid Hostility. But There’s A Long Way To Go

The HC has issued suggestions to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE), National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), schools, colleges, law enforcement agencies and state governments to adopt a cohesive, holistic approach that will ensure the queer community lives with agency, independence and liberation.

Venkatesh “hit the nail on the head when he stated that it is the job of people to understand and accept queer people and that it wasn’t the job of queer people to bend over backwards to fit ‘tradition’,” Ritika Joshi, a 19-year-old student who identifies as bisexual, tells us.

Ruth’s colleague and head co-ordinator of Nazariya Aman Giri adds, “I am so delighted… Back in my time, I would not have thought of schools being affirming and accepting of people belonging to the sexual minority. It is important that schools teach their students about inclusivity and help create a gender-neutral space where students are not asked to think into binaries and give them the opportunity to explore and appreciate the grey shade. Groovy! Satrangi Salaam.”

The court order suggests for schools and other educational institutions to introduce queer-positive curricula, have gender-neutral washrooms, a ‘T’ option for trans persons alongside ‘M’ and ‘F’ on forms, as well as multi-way educative sessions between parents, teachers and students.

Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, doctor and trans activist, was a consultant for Justice Venkatesh on the matter. A “guru,” he called her in his June 7 order, “who pulled [him] out of his darkness.” About the judge’s learning curve and the consequent judgment he delivered, Gummaraju wrote on social media, “This has to be the highlight of Pride for me… I have never met an ally this humble, this receptive, this respectful of our identities. Every moment of our session was pure affirmation.”

While the general mood of the nation’s rainbow population around the Madras HC’s judgment is upbeat, it is not in any way linear.

Justice Venkatesh’s observations are at once a defence of queer identities but simultaneously carry an overwhelming forethought of just how much work remains to be done for ensuring equality of LGBTQIA+ persons. Despite the watershed decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018 with the scrapping of Section 377, India’s queer community continues to live inhibited with concerns of safety and social acceptability.

Against the centre’s consistent pushback against same-sex love and marriages (Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta’s recent statement about queer couples “not dying without marriage certificates”; the centre’s opposition to queer marriages citing it goes against India’s “cultural ethos”; the controversial 2019 Trans Bill) the Madras HC’s step in the right direction seems to be clouded with some hesitation.

A survey conducted between 2017 and 2018 by Azim Premji University and Lok Niti across eight Indian states concluded that 46 percent of respondents disagreed with the validity of queer sexual relationships as against only 28 percent who agreed. 26 percent had no opinion.

Ansari urges for people “to remember that the fight for inclusion and equality is far from being over.”

Meera Singhania Rehani, trans activist and influencer says to SheThePeople, “It’s definitely an important judgment that would safeguard the interests of LGBTQIA+ couples who consent to live in relationships. But we can’t overlook the fact that the same judge has also previously ruled out a judgment against a victim, under the Scheduled Castes/Tribes Act. While this would help queer couples from harassment, from their families, and I don’t mean to disregard the judgment, LGBTQIA+ issues can’t be divorced from the intersectionality of caste oppression.”

She is referring to the Madras HC’s 2019 ruling that quashed a female professor’s FIR against a Coimbatore university’s former Vice-Chancellor. The complainant had alleged her non-appointment to a job role was “social boycott” on grounds of caste. Justice Venkatesh had upheld the Act was not an instrument to “blackmail or wreak personal vengeance.” As per reports, the role had gone to another SC candidate.

A million questions still remain unanswered and a million other answers are befuddled with questions. How far will court pronouncements bring ground-level transformation? Is it enough to effectively change the mindsets of citizens? Can queer inclusion come in the absence of active education? Will the pandemic of prejudice end anytime soon?

One can only protest, resist, love, and then hope, that the rainbow leads us to the pot of gold.