Section 377 – Has anything changed?

On the third anniversary of the decriminalisation of the IPC Section 377, here is looking at what has changed and what needs to change further 

It was a sun drenched late morning in the first week of September. Or was it early afternoon? These minor details of temporality more than often elude my memory. But I do remember sitting with my legs propped up on the divan of my tuition teacher, racking my brains over negative capability in Ode to a Nightingale. The sunlight brocaded on my freshly pressed jeans and a thousand thoughts rushing through my head, when my phone vibrated. 

It was a simple NDTV notification. “In historic judgement, the Supreme Court decriminalises Section 377”. Nine words. A fair oddity to my even obsessed brain. Yet a rock off my chest. I have tried, on many occasions, to explain what such a moment means to a young boy, from a middle-class family, with deeply middle-class values and aspirations to outgrow societal stations. A boy who grew up queer, amidst people and peers who villified his identity, in a country he knew criminalised his very existence, surrounded by people who were different from him. 

The truth is simple. You cannot. It is a moment whose enormity can only be felt, having been through years of abuse and ostracisation. One cannot describe the experiential reality of such a moment except acknowledge perhaps one’s own position in the same. My liberation, my joy, my acceptance was the liberation, joy and acceptance of a million others and my reality was just a speck in the rising cloud of joy that had enveloped the country at that very moment. 

Cut to two years and I find myself in college, one of the most supposedly premiere institutions of the country, where a week in I am casually asked by a guy, “Are you joking? Seriously you are gay?” It is a simple enough question with a simple enough answer. But after nineteen years of existence the heart does get weary of justifying at every turn of the road who you are and why you are. The assumption of society that queerness is a choice or even worse a choice that can be used as the tail end of a joke in a casual introductory conversation is all that stands wrong with our society currently. 

But why should things be this way? It has been three years since the decriminalisation of the clause and there is active mainstream discourse surrounding the reformation of the Hindu Marriage Act, in order to grant queer people in same-sex relationships marital rights as well. Yet, a few days back when I proposed the invitation of Gautam Bhan to commemorate the same event in my creative writing society, I was met with opposition. There were people, clearly aligned with an ideology whose mentioning might get me behind bars, who said that a literature society should not discuss issues of queerness and feminism. That issues such as this were emblematic of a liberal ideology which would lead to the larger destabilisation of our society. 

Action was taken against the individual in question promptly, following rebuttals of adequate reproach from a few peers. But what really disturbed me was the air of silent complicity that accompanied the comment that was made and it is this complicity that scares me as a queer individual even in a post-377 India. It is the same complicity which follows me when I hold the hand of a man in public. It is the same complicity which allows premier institutions (do I sense a pattern?) to comment on the inclusion of trans folks in Olympic sports events. It is the same complicity which makes trans inclusion in military spaces still a dream of the distant future.  

You ask me the reason behind my agitation? There is a law in place. Why bother? Bother I do because the law is just a starting point and as a collective unit, which is precisely what societies are, cultures and narratives of violence around queer bodies can only be erased when we come together to hold conversations on what is going wrong and the roles played by each and every one of us in the erring of that wrong. We need more conversations because conversations are the starting point of any change, which is a slow moving truck often juggling bumpy highways.

The only way history will ever apologise for Section 377 and the countless who were targeted by it, is when people begin to apologise, for perpetuating sickening mindsets in their midst. It is three years of freedom, yes. But what we do with that freedom is what counts eventually. 

Image Credits: Mint 

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Anwesh Banerjee 

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