Exactly a year ago, the Supreme Court made a historic decision by scrapping section 377, a 158-year-old colonial law that criminalised gay sex for all these years in India. The law referred to 'unnatural offences' and said whoever voluntarily had "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" would be punished. The scrapping of this anarchic law gave the LGBTQ+ community the freedom to have consensual sex, same-sex relationships and made it easier for them to be more visible in the society.
However, it was just the beginning of a long journey ahead. Despite the monumental decision made a year ago, the rights of transgender and gay citizens of India are constantly under threat. From finding jobs to nominating each other in insurance policies, the legality of marriages and spousal benefits, basic civil rights are still on the line.
"When I get calls from young people all over India, they want marriage, insurance, civil and economic rights. The cap on the bottle has been removed. It will be a multi-pronged fight," Menaka Guruswamy, senior Supreme Court advocate and one of the lawyers who led the movement for section 377 to be decriminalised, told a national newspaper. "Young people are already approaching district and high courts, police stations and registrars and demanding their rights. That is the way the next big case will come,” she added.
Legalising same-sex marriage is something India has been demanding with various petitions being filed across the nation. Arif Jafar, from Lucknow, along with his lawyers has finalised a petition that asks for same-sex partners to be allowed to nominate each other in insurance and property documents.
On the other hand, hotelier and activist, Keshav Suri (The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group) is also working on a petition that demands spousal benefits and recognition. "We may not immediately ask for marriage equality, because that is a longer battle but start on the lower-hanging fruit," he told a leading newspaper. "My marriage is recognised in France but not here, I want to change that," Keshav added, referring to his French husband, Cyril Feuillebois.
On the Transgender rights front, in 2015, after the Transgender Persons Bill was passed, transgender people in India have been allowed to change their gender without sex reassignment surgery, and have been given a constitutional right to register themselves under a third gender. However, since the introduction of The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill in 2019, the transgender community has grown worried about their status of identity.
"The Transgender Persons Bill should be a remarkable achievement for a long-persecuted community, but the current draft fails on the fundamental right to self-identify," Meenakshi Ganguly, Director, Human Rights Watch South Asia told a news agency. "It's crucial that the law is in line with the Supreme Court's historic ruling on transgender rights," she added.
The battle has just begun and we await mindsets, stereotypes and social constructs to change, alongside the raging battle for basic civil and economic rights.