The nation is reeling from the blow of the Supreme Court judgment that re-criminalises gay sex. However, all is not lost yet. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has urged Parliament to amend Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which comes as a ray of hope for the LGBT community. The question that remains is whether there is enough political will to bring about a change. Team DC reports
‘Having been born in a Brahmin family it was not at all easy to convince my mother about my sexuality.
However, she always suspected it owing to my feminine mannerisms and did her best to make me behave like a man. But I always knew I was a woman trapped in a man’s body.
I can recall my mother forcing me to do puja, sandhya which every Brahmin man is supposed to do as I was never comfortable with those rituals.
The real challenge, however, were society, my relatives and friends.
As time went by my relatives began questioning my mother about my behavior.
Unfortunately, my father had passed away when I was 11 years old before he could know the real me.
While I was in school and doing my PUC, all my friends made me feel very uncomfortable. They looked down upon me as if I had some disease.
It’s not just humiliation that people like me have to suffer. Many of us have been sexually harassed in our childhood as well. When I was in class IX, my Hindi teacher sexually harassed me by forcibly kissing me and touching me in ways he should not have.
I was fed up with the way I was made to feel, so in 2000 when I was 20 years old I took a bold decision to leave my home in Banshankari and began living with my other transgender friends in Yeshwanthpur.
I enjoyed staying with them. Although I wanted to lead a life of dignity, I took to sex work because I knew no one would employ me.
However, to my good luck, I got to know about Samara, a targeted intervention project and I started working with it.
Now I am working with Sangama, an NGO that works for sexual minorities.
Today I lead a dignified life and my mother too has accepted me for who I am. In fact, she lives with me now.
I am glad that in January 2013, I was elected to be the president of the Karnataka Sex Workers Union with 70 per cent votes. Besides, about two years ago, I underwent castration and now I have the body of a woman as well.
Not everyone can understand what we have been through and are compelled to undergo as a result of social prejudice.
And the recent Supreme Court decision has only added fuel to the fire. The decision makes us very vulnerable and scared.
I am scared too. Nobody can tell me whom to love and how to love. That’s my birth right, my choice.
This decision will mean more discrimination, violation of human rights and harassment from all sections of society, especially the police. But with the support of Congress leaders and a review petition, I am hopeful that we will get back our rights.”
—As told to Sangeeta Bora by Nisha Gulur
Next: What Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code says
What Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code says
Drafted in 1861 by Lord Macaulay in British India, Section 377 IPC is part of Chapter XVI of the IPC titled ‘Of Offences Affecting the Human Body’ and is categorised under the sub-chapter ‘Of Unnatural Offences.’
It states that “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term, which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
‘Scrap Section 377 from law books’
A day after the Supreme Court judgement, which recriminalised Section 377 IPC, the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LGBT) community in Bengaluru woke up to a promise of hope after Congress president Sonia Gandhi urged Parliament to amend the controversial section, which penalises unnatural sex.
“There’s some hope today after Ms. Gandhi said she would urge the government to amend the law. But we are not sure whether there will be enough political will to make the change. The LGBT community is not a vote bank for any political party; we constitute roughly 10 per cent of the total population and may not even contribute one per cent of the vote share,” said political and LGBT activist Elavarthi Manohar.
“The Centre should scrap Section 377 from the law books. We will not settle for anything less,” said activist Shubha Chacko.
The network, which includes students, intellectuals, lawyers, artists, writers, theatre and film personalities among others, is pressing the Centre to file a review petition in the Supreme Court against its December 10 order.
“Sexual identity and orientation is not a matter of choice. It is a genetic and physiological characteristic and one is born with it. Sexual identity and orientation are chromosomal and are ingrained in the human foetus in the first eight weeks of pregnancy,” said Dr Shabiya Saldanha, gynaecologist and co-founder of Enfold Proactive Health Trust, who has authored books and conducts workshops on sexuality and gender empowerment.
In her view, the whole debate on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code stems from a patriarchal mindset, which is heteronormative and homophobic.
For a while it seemed the LGBT community was on its way to greater social acceptance when in July 2009 the Delhi High Court, hearing a petition by the Naz Foundation, a Lucknow voluntary organisation, had decrminalised the section.
The order asserted that “Section 377 IPC, in so far it criminalizes consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution,” while allowing its provisions to continue to govern “non-consensual penile non-vaginal sex and penile non-vaginal sex involving minors.”
The Naz Foundation, which partners with the National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) in creating awareness on safe sex and use of contraceptives among commercial sex workers had pleaded with the court to amend Section 377 to help it reach out to these groups, especially to men having sex with men (MSM) and was jubilant at the verdict.
But it now clearly has another round of battle on its hands....