Section 377 verdict: A battle won, but long war ahead

Bengaluru: The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down Section 377 IPC, which criminalises gay sex. In Bengaluru, which has been on the forefront of the LGBT movement for decades, the court order has been hugely welcomed as the victory of “Constitutional morality,” equality and justice by members and activists of the Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) or sexual minority community. 

“The genesis of advocacy for the LGBT rights and decriminalisation of the community lies in the first ever report on the atrocities against them in the 2003 document, which was brought out by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Bengaluru. It’s been a very long struggle and we felt that in our lifetime Section 377 (IPC) may not be repealed and we may not get justice. Today’s Supreme Court judgement is rooted in the Constitution. It is very well worded. We welcome it,” said Arvind Narrain, a  lawyer, LGBT activist and founder member of Alternate Law Forum (ALF), Bengaluru.

He added that the court has entrusted the state with certain responsibility to fight discrimination of the community. ALF was founded in 1999 and has been actively involved in advocacy for the disadvantaged section of society including the sexual minorities.  Bengaluru has been in the forefront of the rainbow movement for more than two decades. The first visible support group of the LGBT community ‘Good As You’ (Gay) was formed in 1994 and is the longest surviving group in the City. 

Vinay Chandran, founder of another LGBT rights group – ‘Swabhava’ in the City and a member of ‘Gay’ said the apex court’s order will affect lots of people, who have been criminalised over their sexuality and were being harassed on a daily basis. “But this is not the end of the fight. It’s a beginning of a long battle; against social discrimination of the sexual minority people in their families, hospitals and public places,” said Vinay. “The Supreme Court has also directed for the sensitisation of the police,” he added. 

The first Queer Film Festival in South India was held in Bengaluru in 2003 followed by The Gay Pride walk in 2008. “Bengaluru, even in the early nineties was far more liberal than many other cities in India, when select few alone would talk about alternate sexual orientation  among themselves,” said Elavarthi Manohar, an LGBT rights activist and the member of National Executive of the newly found political party – Swaraj India. Manohar had co-founded ‘Sangama’, another rights group for the community in the mid nineties. 

“I first realised I was different when I was 16 years old. I was confused and very vulnerable.  There was no one to talk to. I was sexually assaulted on couple of occasions,” said Manohar. He was among the first few in the City to come out and announce his alternate sexual orientation in the late 90s. “The Supreme Court has done justice to many people, who have been exploited by the society and their own. Gay men used to meet each other at undercover cruising sites. No names were exchanged for fear of being exposed. I’ve had so many partners, whose names are not known to me,” said Manohar.  He added that the apex court order will now lead to further advocacy; on rights of the community. “We don’t have right to property or adoption. This all should change,” he added. Vinay had a very interesting take on Section 377. “The 1884 case of Queen Empress VS Khairati was one of the first cases involving 377 against Khairati, who was a eunuch. She was accused of impersonating a woman She has got justice today.” 


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