On every August 15th, Indians across the globe take to the streets in celebration of their hard-fought freedom. Homes are adorned in tri-colored flags and flowers, colorful parades march down the streets, and the air is buzzing with a special kind of festive zeal. In 1947, after 200 years of British oppression, India’s Independence brought forward a renewed hope to its people, a hope promised in the guise of liberation through its constitution, which gave every citizen the freedom of expression, speech, religion, and movement. Yet, 72 years later, millions of Indians still lead a life devoid of basic human rights due to their economic status, gender, caste, and sexuality.
So, the question begs, are all Indians truly independent?
After decades of trial, the Indian judiciary finally decided that society’s collective consciousness cannot define how individuals lead their lives. The young nation took steps to uphold its citizens’ basic rights by decriminalizing homosexuality. On 6th September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code had become a weapon of harassment and violated India’s constitutional morality. The judgment stated, “history owes an apology to those people persecuted by Section 377 for the social ostracism caused by the section.” A watershed in Indian history, the ruling meant that from then onwards, millions of LGBTQ+ Indians were no longer unapprehended felons.
While the monumental verdict is a welcome relief for queer Indians, religious leaders’ condemnation and political leaders’ radio silence suggests that the road to complete societal acceptance is tirelessly long. With the world moving towards protectionist policies, the far-right gaining prominence, and the rise of extremism the fight against racism, homophobia, and transphobia is ever more challenging. As a collectivist and traditional nation, a huge stratum of the Indian society is ignorant to the extent that it simply does not even acknowledge the LGBTQ+ community. As a result, for the Indian queer community, these basic rights to live with dignity and personal liberty have been compromised. Despite the respite that came from this remarkable ruling, same-sex couples are still denied the right to marry and adopt, leaving the LGBTQ+ community and activists of India with a long battle ahead to overcome institutional homophobia.
The systematic and historic effacing of the queer community goes beyond the obvious infractions to basic human rights; the extent of damage a non-inclusive society can cause is glaringly obvious. Homophobia severely impacts public health and, in many cases, leads to educational and workplace discrimination. Studies suggest that suicide ideation and attempted suicide rates are significantly higher among LGBTQ+ youth. As per World Bank, homophobia attributes to lower economic output on a country level. Our denial of this uncomfortable truth is indicative of how we prioritize our beliefs over human lives. This is what frightens me. The same me who is rooting for India to become the next superpower.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and a belief system, but when did we start making allowances for social evils such as homophobia and bigotry? If we let misguided beliefs fuelled by polarizing rhetoric cloud our sense of morality, what becomes of us? Do we not embolden those who discriminate by our inaction and silence? It should be unimaginable that individuals must strive to co-exist lawfully with those who reject them based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.
In the Indian context, educating and sensitizing the public is of utmost importance. The majority of the population still has an extremely limited understanding of gender and sexual fluidity. Changing attitudes on a grassroots level is key to ensuring a healthy environment for the LGBTQ+ community. To chart a new narrative of the Indian queer, they must be seen. Positive representation in mainstream media has a marked effect on how minority groups perceive themselves. India’s enormous movie industry can fuel positive conversation around the queer community and tell inclusive stories. Fictional role models and identifiable characters have often impacted lives in unprecedented ways. Mass acceptance will come with (a growing number of) allies who educate themselves, speak up and lend support to LGBTQ+ issues.
India is my home- a home I share with 1.3 billion humans. We are as diverse as they come in terms of language, religion, cuisine, and customs. I fail to understand, why the prejudice? I care about this because it is human to do so. I care because I do not wish to accept a reality where a few select humans are considered lesser. At the end of the day, it is simply a matter of how we wish to treat other humans.