As months of anticipation and years of struggle come ostensibly crashing down, here is a moment of reckoning with institutional failures and the road that lies ahead.
10:48 AM on the crispy morning of 17 October, 2023. Groups of students huddle at the back of lecture halls, their eyes or ears fixated on the livestream or latest updates from the Supreme Court’s (SC) judgement on same-sex marriage equality. Nearly 5 months of waiting and 10 days of preceding hearings had led up to this moment. While the expectations going in differed for each individual, I swear we all experienced a collective adrenaline rush in the hours and minutes leading up to it. It is as if the weight of this verdict and the bearing it would have on our fates and futures had suddenly come crashing upon us.
Such is my intent with this piece. I am no queer activist with credit or contribution to the struggle that was fought for this case. Nor am I an expert who can offer insight or add to a conversation that has already been covered much better than I ever could. I am simply a young queer person seeking to memorialise this event in my eyes and those of the people of my age and community. Because if there is anything that queerness has taught me, it is that the power of memory and the power of stories outlive everything.
The pronouncement of the judgement certainly began on a high note, in large part due to the Chief Justice’s words, whose queer-sensitive remarks had been a highlight of the hearings as well. It did not take long, however, for all the hopes and exhilaration to come cascading down, ultimately solidifying as a pit in the stomach as we saw a relatively trusted institution shift the mantle of responsibility to one that few queer people hold faith in. Prakhar, a student who had been closely following the livestream, shared the initial joy he felt in being seen,
While all of this was happening, I was feeling very, very emotional. I was almost about to cry because of how we were being validated and talked about, and the fact that someone at a high level was acknowledging that queerness is not western and that we exist to deserve better. But of course, as the judgement moved on, all of these statements became futile. All the emotions that I was feeling went straight down the drain.
The degree of institutional trust held by the queer community is key to understanding the verdict at hand and the reactions it has elicited. The battle for LGBTQIA+ rights in India has historically found more success in the courts than it has in our legislatures. From the 2014 NALSA judgement to the 2018 decriminalisation of homosexuality, the judiciary of India has upheld the rights and dignity of queer individuals in the face of a cis-heteronormative society whose majority opinion seldom sways in the favour of marginalised groups.
In the case of the queer movement, legal reform has had to precede a social overturning of long-held prejudices. To see an apex institute abdicate itself of the responsibility to initiate such change is disappointing, to say the least. Add to this the Centre’s affidavit in March disapproving of same-sex marriages as something that “would cause a complete havoc with the delicate balance of personal laws in the country and in accepted societal values” and their history of misrepresenting the queer community in legislation such as with the Trans Act 2019, and it is evident why people are calling this verdict the setback that it is.
Not all hope is lost, however. In fact, far from it. In conversation with DU Beat, Yash Sharma, founder of Official Humans of Queer, says,
While this verdict may not grant us all we’re fighting for, it has ignited the flame of determination within us. This newfound resilience will undoubtedly aid us in future battles, whether it’s for marriage equality, horizontal reservations, mental health support, or any other essential rights.
Moments like these also bring out the dire need for queer representation in the leadership and decision-making institutions of our country. Reflecting on the judgement, Gavish from Hindu College Queer Collective says,
The fiasco made me realise how just pressure from our side is not enough, we need more and more queer folks in position of power to change the prevalent conditions. Queer destinies are being determined by people who do not relate to queer issues; hence they are bound to fail.
In my conversations with queer peers, I was saddened yet felt empathetic upon observing great dejectedness and hopelessness among the youth of my age group. Perhaps stemming from the fact that this was our first face-to-face incidence with an institutional failure of this scale, a reaction of hurt and rage is naturally expected. It is in moments like these that I find it crucial to turn to our queer elders and queer history. Georgina Maddox, queer feminist art critic-curator, shares,
The younger generation should not feel defeated or depressed because queer rights have been gotten through fighting. We faced a similar set-back for Section 377 of the IPC that criminalised ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature.’ Similarly, the marriage act for queer couples has to be redefined in gender non-binary manner and re-applied for. We will not give up but continue to struggle till we get our rights.
This should serve as a moment of reckoning. If you are a young queer person, especially one whose intersectional privileges have allowed them to distance themselves from politics and activism, this is your wake-up call. Apoliticism will not bring you queer rights, but channelling the pain and rage into actionable dissent might. As the LGBTQIA+ movement wages on in the country, which side of history will you choose to be on?
Featured Image Credits: DU Beat Photo Archive