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Section 377
Opinion

Section 377 gone, what next for India’s LGBTQ community?

The SC judgment scrapping Section 377 was one of the crucial bout won by the LGBTQ community after a long wait. But does the battle end here? No.

“Section 377 is arbitrary. LGBT community possesses rights like others. Majoritarian views and popular morality can’t dictate constitutional rights.”

These golden words by Chief justice of India, Dipak Mishra must be written in bold letters and placed on display in public places all over India. As the landmark judgment by Supreme Court decriminalized Homosexuality striking down the archaic Section 377 partially, India’s LGBT community woke up to a true freedom- Freedom from legalized criminality that suppressed the voices of millions of Indians for more than a century. The judgment was a light at the end of a dark tunnel of the struggle for social recognition and fight against prejudices that went on for years.

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As the Supreme Court freed the wings of the LGBTQ community from the chains of Section 377, rainbow flags were unfurled at several places, pride parades were organized celebrating the newfound freedom. A freedom that now reflected in their joyous celebrations. However, the LGBTQ community’s journey towards this freedom hasn’t been easy. Though India was freed from the colonial clutches 70 years ago, a remnant of the colonialism stuck to us. And even as the country rose to a new beginning as a democratic republic where everyone was equal, the LGBTQ community could never be truly equal as the law of free India termed them criminal for something as natural as their sexual orientation. As Justice Indu Malhotra pointed out, “History owes an apology to the LGBT community.” The September 6 judgment put a legal full stop to these struggles. It decriminalized the Homosexuality.

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What next?

Indeed, yesterday’s judgment was one of the crucial bout won by the LGBTQ community after a long wait. But does the battle end here? No. The real fight starts here. The fight for recognition without prejudice and representation in every sphere including politics. The history of the struggle of LGBTQ community in India stands witness to how the political class betrayed the interests of the community for years. Removal of criminality tag from the LGBTQ community wasn’t even considered as an “Election issue” by the political parties until in 2013 when Congress party added it to their manifesto in 2013.

Though they lost the subsequent elections and hence couldn’t do much, it must not be forgotten that even during the 10 years of rule, the party did not try to support the LGBTQ community. In fact, after the 2009 Delhi High Court verdict striking down section 377 senior Congress leader Ghulam nabi Azad called Homosexuality a “disease”. It was only around the election time that the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi made historic statements in support of homosexuality. The party could have ended the suffering of the LGBTQ community during its tenure or at the least should have supported it but it did not.

The other national party, BJP, on the other hand, is a camp of homophobic members. Their parent organization RSS too has time and again reiterated that it deems homosexuality “unnatural”. Dattatreya Hosabale, the joint general secretary of RSS called it “Socially immoral act” in our society. Apart from the thankful exception of Arun Jaitley, not a single big leader from BJP came out in support of the suppressed community. On the contrary, it only helped perpetuate the stereotypical, prejudiced perception of the community.

For years, India’s political class neglected and brushed the community aside under the cover of morality and Section 377. The hope is this will change with the decriminalization of homosexuality. It is now indeed important that the community has representation in politics. Just like the representation of women is necessary to highlight the issues that concern the women, it is necessary to have representation from the LGBTQ community. The community which has been hiding in the closet is big in numbers and most of them are potential voters discovering their selves.

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The societal prejudices and hate that emanates from it, can sometimes lead to violence against members of this community. Other issues such as mental health, sexual health, and prevention of diseases, protection against hate are some of the aspects which need to be discussed on a broad platform. Our culture and society are yet not fully ready to accept the community. Thus, it is the responsibility of the governments and security agencies along with all of us to create a social environment in which they can practice their rights without any fear. These issues should not only be limited to public discussions but also given space in political and media debates. The issues of LGBTQ community must be treated as “Election issue” where political parties pay attention to this neglected section of society. More and more people from the community should not only be involved in active politics but also contest elections. The representation in the parliament is the only way by which the issues of the community will get national acknowledgment.

The LGBTQ community has struggled hard to reach this beginning. The real battle, however, begins here.

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