In a major setback to the LGBT community as well as to democratic and human rights, the Supreme Court has set aside the Delhi High Court ruling which had decriminalized homosexuality and which had read down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Delhi HC verdict of 2009 had observed that Section 377 is violative of Articles 21 (Right to Protection of Life and Personal Liberty), 14 (Right to Equality before Law) and 15 (Prohibition of Discrimination on Grounds of Religion, Race, Caste, Sex or Place) of the Constitution. In overturning the HC verdict, the SC has sought to absolve itself from the responsibility of confirming what ought to be a basic human right of consenting adults. What the Court has upheld is a colonial-era law which discriminates against sexual minorities and criminalizes their sexual behaviour— Section 377 makes the consensual sexual activity of homosexual adults an offence punishable with up to life imprisonment. It is indeed outrageous that this draconian law classifies homosexuality as being “against the order of nature”, when the fact is that homosexuality is observed in more than 1500 species in nature.
Heteronormativity, or the institutionalized imposition of heterosexuality as a norm, finds place amongst the most oppressive features of our society. Deeply tied in with the institution of the patriarchal family, it is a part of the larger complex of gender violence, oppression and exploitation. Every regressive aspect of gender relations – skewed gender roles, objectification of women, sexual violence – has a deep connection with the imposed norm of heterosexuality. The fight against heteronormativity must necessarily, therefore, be a part of the struggle for democratizing gender relations and the institution of the family. The SC verdict, by striking a major blow to the movement for LGBT rights, represents the desperate flailing of the forces of reaction against precisely such a struggle for democratization.
The last couple of decades, marked by wide-ranging neoliberal reforms, have seen an increasing communalization of our society. An integral part of this process of communalization has been a strengthening of the most reactionary facets of our social world – from caste structures to domination based on gender. While on the one hand, the neoliberal dispensation has ushered in the worst forms of commodification of women, on the other, the growing communalization of our social space has produced increasingly repressive and tyrannical control over love and sexuality. From obnoxious forms of moral policing to khap panchayat-led honour crimes, there is a rising onslaught on the very fundamental freedom of choice. Combatting the growing communalization of our society, therefore, requires a vigorous defense of these freedoms – from the freedom to choose one’s partner in marriage, to the freedom to exercise choices based on one’s sexual orientation. Vigorous assertion and recognition of these freedoms occupy, therefore, a central place in the project of pushing back communal, reactionary forces. The SC judgment is a direct assault on this project.
The SC judgment highlights once more how religious bigotry is an arch enemy of the fundamental liberties of the people. The case in the Supreme Court saw a veritable confluence of religious bigots of every hue – with the likes of Baba Ramdev and elements of the Sangh Parivar leading the pack – rally vigorously against fundamental sexual freedoms. The SC judgment is being hailed and commended by zealots across the board, irrespective of religious denomination. These charlatans and self-proclaimed religious “leaders” need to be reminded that the history of progressive movements across the country is a testament to religion increasingly becoming an arena of contestation. Waves of social reform movements, increasingly under the leadership of oppressed, marginalized and exploited sections, are questioning and challenging the tyrannical and oppressive aspects of established religion. SFI appeals to all progressive sections to stand together in rock solid unity in these struggles.
The SC judgment, very disturbingly, brings out the increasing sway of the forces of reaction on the judiciary. From the Ayodhya verdict, to the many blanket acquittals in the cases of carnage wreaked by the Ranvir Sena, to the current decision, casteist, feudal, and reactionary prejudice has increasingly tended to cloud judicial judgements. The SFI believes that this tendency poses a fundamental threat to the very fabric of our democratic system. In the current case, though, a legislation can potentially overturn the judgment. SFI demands that the central government immediately take up the task of passing a law decriminalizing alternative sexualities and recognizing the fundamental rights of sexual minorities.
The struggle for ensuring and safeguarding the rights of marginalized sexualities is a long and protracted one. SFI stands in firm solidarity with this arduous battle.