Written jointly and with inputs from Atreya Raghavan, Pradyumna Kalagi, Oshi Saxena and Shreya Gautam.
Middle school. Sushant was 13. The time in his life when he started to understand the world around him in a more mature manner. He understood his friends, family, most of all, himself. However, this, unfortunately, did not go both ways. His best friend, who he practically grew up with started to notice the changes in Sushant, the ones that he himself did not know just yet; and used them as reasons to move away from him. He bullied him, lashed out on him amongst peers, called him names for his somewhat feminine behaviour and used him as a tool to channel all his frustration upon. For someone who was already unsure of his identity and whether or not he’d be accepted by his own parents, the one person that Sushant thought he could trust and fall back on, turned into his worst fear.
The Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is an act that makes homosexuality criminal. It was introduced in 1861 during the British Rule. It referred to ‘unnatural offences’ and said whoever voluntarily had carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life.
However, in a landmark verdict by the Supreme Court of India on September 6th 2018, the Section 377 was decriminalised of the IPC and permitted gay sex amongst consenting adults in private. The Supreme Court ruled that consensual sex between same sex is not a crime by saying that sexual orientation is natural and people have no control over it.
“I never really had a ‘coming out’ story. By the age of 12-13, my attraction towards both genders was evident to me. When I did learn more about my sexuality and the LGBTQIA+ community, a part of me that was hidden for so long felt recognised,” Madhureema Roy Moulik tells us. According to her, the generation gap between parents and their children today, with the former not having easy access to technology and information, coupled with the generations of stigmas attached to the community is responsible for people’s inability to accept LGBTQIA+ identities easily. “You’d be surprised at the power of a conversation,” she adds, speaking about her use of Instagram and Discord servers for educating citizens about the issues the LGBTQIA+ community faces, and also to ensure a safe space for members where they feel accepted and can be heard.
Anya (Name changed), 15, says “I never feel it is safe to come out to anyone and that prevents me from making friends.” According to her India is a deeply religious country. “Conditioning and subsequent misconceptions about religion lead members of the community to believe that they are committing a sin by being who they are.”
Anya’s friends have been very open and accepting of her identity. She has only opened to her mother. Anya’s father is more conservative which prevents her from opening to him. Her mother took a little while to adjust to the fact, but she told Anya “I love you and this won’t change that.”
Anya firmly believes that we need to have these so called “uncomfortable” conversations with the elders. “Being open minded has nothing do with your morals.” She adds, “We need allies to openly show their support to the community.”
“I don’t understand why the law requires so much contemplation over a question of human rights.” She is of the opinion that India cannot develop if all the citizens do not feel free. She acknowledges that the decriminalization of the Article 377 was a welcome step but she is firm in her stand that more needs to be done.
“The worst pain of marginalization is how internalized and targeted it is to certain people,” LGBTQIA+ activist Lenaisha Jain tells us. Speaking about the decriminalization of Section 377, she believes that even in areas where despite being limited education, people who earlier had found a safe place to confide within friends were now scrutinized more as people now can see the community as more than just myths and folklore. “India is a country run by religion. Taking children back to their roots, educating them on the gods and stories of the community which have for long been swept under the carpet is the only way one can bring about a change in terms of legalization and recognition of same sex marriages as has been done in Taiwan and Japan,” she further adds.
Being a queer person in India means living in a constant fear of harassment and/or abandonment, according to Neeraj Punia, a 24-year-old genderqueer trans-woman student in the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. Being from a conservative, joint Haryanvi family, she explains how it is considered taboo to have conversations revolving around gender and sexuality.
She expresses how problematic she finds the representation of LGTBQIA+ people in cisgender folks and popular mainstream media under the pretext of education. She believes that the queer identities are portrayed in a stereotypical and in a negative manner. “Cisgender-heterosexual citizens must begin to read and have more conversations from people belonging to the transgender community so as to better understand the stigmatization they face,” she adds.
Speaking about the decriminalization of Section 377, she is of the opinion that, although it is a welcome initiative and queer identities are finally being protected by a legal framework, how much of it is helping on the ground level is a question that remains to be answered.
"It is not easy being a part of this community, especially in a country like India, where people do not accept you for who you are," says Ayush, a Chandigarh University student. Although the Indian society is slowly starting a dialogue, there's still a lot of disapproval, stereotypes, and misinformation about the LGBTQIA community. "I even asked my elder brother to teach me how to talk and walk like a man," recalls Ayush, as he was bullied since childhood just because he didn't fit into the criteria of 'normal males'. The decriminalisation of section 377 is just a start as there are so many basic rights that still haven't been provided to the community, such as marriage rights, adoption and surrogacy rights, and so on and so forth. But looking at his friends, be it LGBT community or straight allies, their love and acceptance reassures Ayush of the future.
“I don’t blame my mother for reacting the way she did after I came out to her,” says Sushant Tamang, 22, a fashion designer and an in-house stylist “After all, our country was never educated enough to know that there are other sides which exist to a human’s sexuality. But with time, things have changed and I have been informing my mother about various sexual identities,” he adds. On the other hand, Sushant is hesitant to open up to his father. “I do not know what his reaction is going to be. I think I’ll open up to him when I am independent. It terrifies me to think about his reaction. I don’t want to lose him.” Sushant tells us.
“Amidst the various reactions of people about my sexuality, both online and offline, I couldn’t comprehend what was fake or real,” says Shrestha Tripathi, a media professional and a proud bisexual. She talks about how she was appreciated online when she accepted her sexuality and then ridiculed in real life which badly affected her self-confidence for a long time. She feels that people try to fit in the 'liberal' image online but make fun of her in person.
Shonali Malhotra a Trans-woman associated with Mist, an online collective that chronicles the stories of the LGBTQIA community, has been campaigning for the community’s equality for upwards of a decade. “People who belong to the community often have to face a lot of mental harassment from a young age. Most of them are not accepted by their friends and sometimes even by their family members. This creates a sense of isolation and hopelessness in them.”
“Nevertheless, I see some change with how this generation deals with the idea of alternate sexuality. It is definitely a positive change. Even parents are increasingly coming out in support of their LGBTQIA children.” She tells us. However, she believes that the battle for acceptance is far from over.
Sushant walks up to his room after yet another tiring and dreadful day of being himself, not sure about whether his identity will ever be accepted by the society. Just then, his sister walks up to him, wraps her arms around him and says, “Everything will be okay dada. I am very proud of who you are and will always be there for you.” She is 13.
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