A safe space to assemble against the stigma of sexuality
One of the biggest stigma's we have in India is around sexuality. To be precise, any sexuality that isn't male centered heterosexuality. I could choose to talk about the oppression I have experienced, or the stories of thousands of other straight Indian woman, but I want to focus on an oppression that is even greater -- the discrimination of homosexuality.
Sexuality is a sensitive topic -- it is cultural, political and very personal. The nature of it is such that the more oppressed you are the harder it is to speak up about it or even understand what your own sexuality is like -- especially as a woman. This is what makes a tool like the internet so important. It enables us to explore and better understand ourselves in a private setting. It enables us to connect with other like-minded people in ways that would not be possible in the physical world and learn new perspectives that haven't previously been available to us. Once we are armed with a fresh perspective and new information, it enables us to organize with like-minded people to change the system that oppresses us.
That's what we're doing in India on the issue of homosexuality.
In December last year the Supreme Court (India's apex court) criminalized homosexuality. To be specific it set aside the 2009 Delhi High Court ruling that had originally struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to decriminalize homosexuality. By observing that Section 377 is a valid constitutional provision, the Supreme Court hence re-criminalized “gay sex”.
When the verdict came out, our team was shocked. How could our Supreme Court reverse such a progressive judgement? We acted immediately. We launched a petition stating that "Love is not a crime", that each individual has a right to choose whom they love and how they love them and that the government must act immediately. We shared this with our friends and it went viral. Within six hours 5000 people signed on. That wasn't all. People were tweeting, sharing memes and as the roar on the internet got louder, so did the response from the media, celebrities and even MPs. For the first time in our history Indians who didn't identify as queer started to speak up for the rights of our queer community and the right to choose ones sexuality.
Within a week of the verdict our petition was 25,000 strong -- the largest petition of it's sort in India at that point in time -- and we met with our Union Minister of Law, Kapil Sibal, to deliver the voices of the people who had spoken out against the verdict. The response online combined with the protests organized by the queer community on the ground culminated in the government submitting an official position on the Supreme Court verdict (something that is very rare). The government chose to support the 2009 ruling by the Delhi High Court that originally decriminalized "gay sex" and filed a Review Petition appealing to the Supreme Court to review their decision. We celebrated (for a moment) -- only to have the Supreme Court reject this Review Petition in January.
But like every thing worth fighting for, the battle continues. The lawyers on the case filed a Curative Petition which was accepted in April for which the hearing date is yet to be confirmed. With a new, conservative government in place we have been working to bring around decision makers so that when the hearing happens the case is strong.
Most recently we met with our new Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, where hundreds of our petition signers sent in moving letters expressing why they want him to support the equal rights of the LGBTQ community. The Health Minister assured us that he would maintain the stance of the previous health ministry and support the rights of the queer community if questioned by the Supreme Court. A step in the right direction. Now we plan to deliver our 36,000 people strong petition to the Supreme Court in the weeks to come, and plan to keep the issue alive and out on the streets so that the Supreme Court knows that there are hundreds of thousands of women and men in India who care about this issue.
We haven't won yet. But thanks to the internet we will. It may happen this year, it may take much longer, but with our ability to share information of such outrageous discrimination and come together quickly we will continue to organize with our fellow citizens until we do.
When the Delhi High Court in 2009 ruled homosexuality to be legal, tens of thousands of women and men started to come out and acknowledge their sexual orientation both privately and publicly. It was a milestone for the liberation of sexuality in India. We need the internet to keep being able to share stories like this and to continue liberating our sexualities which are fundamental to our existence.
As a straight woman, I believe that only by creating an accepting and positive culture and political atmosphere on homosexuality, can we ensure positivity and acceptance on the sexuality of all women in India.