On September 6, India saw victory of law and love. The five bench Supreme Court unanimously passed an order on IPC Section 377, making the country really free for everyone – including gays and transgenders for the first time since 1861. India has become a better country since then. Many trans and homo children, both girls and boys, have been violated within families and their parents have long lived in constant fear of their children being considered criminal. The Supreme Court ruling will give solace to them.
But the law can only change the law, not the attitude and behaviour of people. It will take many more years or decades before we can actually eradicate the stigma of being gay or transgender. While many remain indifferent, the trans and homophobic population will continue to judge and discriminate. At best, many of them will be indifferent and ignore their existence and at worst, we will continue to see hate crimes and violence targeting them. Moral policing often does not have a relationship with what law says or what the reality is. The following opinions, which do not have any grounding based on facts and experience, typify the mindset of several religious leaders and fanatics: “They can be what they want to but let them not advertise it”, “So now they are going to ask for gay marriages and spoil our culture”, “All this has been brought to our country from the West”. So on and so forth.
Changing such thought processes is an uphill task and can be achieved if it is tackled effectively on three fronts: increase solidarity from within and empower the community, sensitise and engage with policymakers, and educate masses through platforms that involve members of the community and the general population. As long as the general population does not interact and engage with community members, it will not be aware that there is a human being behind a gay or transgender identity. And that is simply not a matter of just sex or gender!
In one of our projects, which serves 6,000 transgenders across six sites, we were able to document some 450 cases of violence and discrimination within a span of about two years. In fact, in every discussion we had with them, we were apprised about the insults and violence they faced. We also found that only cases involving extreme physical brutality that were filed as FIRs with the police, were reported as violence by the law keepers. Worse, many other cases of insults, violence by goons or anti-social elements, family or intimate partners were simply not reported because they were all seen as 'part of life'. This is a sad reality that needs to be addressed not only with the larger public but also within the gay and transgender community.
Another event we organised was a public hearing in which cases of police violence were shared before the National Human Rights Commissioner, media, judiciary and community leaders. Some transgenders recounted experiences of rape, while gays spoke of being cheating and looted. One young gay person’s recalled how he lost his hearing due to a battering just for being what he is. All these incidents had one aspect in common – IPC Section 377 was used to threaten them and therefore they tolerated the violence and did not file cases against the atrocities.
This is why the decision of partially setting aside Section 377 (decriminalising consensual sex) is particularly heartwarming and comes as a shot in the arm for the LGBTQ community as it can no longer be used as a stick to beat them with. What now remains is to have their families and friends, and society at large accept them with open arms, heads and hearts. And, as I said before, that involves a complete mindset overhaul that will eventually happen with time.
The author is Chief Executive, India HIV/AIDS Alliance, a not-for-profit organisation