Thanks to India's Ban on Gay Sex, I'm Afraid to Return Home

Thanks to India's Ban on Gay Sex, I'm Afraid to Return Home

This November, hundreds marched along Barakhamba Road in India's capital, New Delhi, sporting rainbow-colored wigs, waving flags, chanting slogans, and holding up signs reading "Equality for all" and "Our parents love us." It was the city's sixth annual pride parade, a demonstration of continued celebration and a demand for greater human rights, just four short years after India removed the shackles from a barbaric colonial-era law.

The Delhi High Court's verdict in 2009 was heralded as India's Stonewall.

It came out just a year after I moved to New York to study. My decision was largely propelled by the fact I didn't feel safe being open about my sexuality at home in New Delhi. The verdict made me believe that my country was finally on track to living up to its title of the world's largest democracy.

But for me, and many other LGBT Indians like myself, that triumph and jubilation quickly turned to anger and outrage when India's highest court, the Supreme Court, reinstated that law last Wednesday.

Now, I'm genuinely terrified to return to a democracy where rape is rampant, minorities are continuously persecuted, and the organs of the state, the judiciary, legislature, and the executive just watch in silence.

I thought perhaps it would be easy for me to look at what is happening at home with a sense of detachment, a reassurance of sorts for why I left, but the distance has in fact heightened my indignation. I can walk the streets of New York without the slightest hesitation (for the most part) about expressing my sexuality freely, but what does the verdict mean for the 2.5 million LGBT people in India?


Image Credit: AP

The law punishes anyone engaging in "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal." The maximum sentence is life in prison.

It is unlikely that cops will burst into homes of gay people and cart them off to prison, but as has happened time and again in the past, the police could use the law to harass and intimidate them, sort of like a stop-and-frisk lite, if you will.

"The sad part is that there a lot of sadistic individuals with a certain power (police for example) who are willing to exploit people on the basis of a certain law," said Tejeshwar Sandhu, who is openly gay and works as a pilot in India. "Now that this verdict has come, it takes me back to that time (before the 2009 verdict) and makes me scared."

The judge, G.S. Singhvi, who delivered Wednesday's verdict, and retired shortly thereafter, says it is up to the Parliament of India to amend the law. But what's so frightening about the ball being in the government's court? For one, India's lack of an absentee voting system, stifles the opinions of so many LGBT Indian like myself, who live abroad.

Secondly, Indian national elections are scheduled to take place in May. In last week's state elections, the ruling party, the Indian National Congress (INC), received a drubbing. It lost all four states with contested elections, and in Delhi, where it had been in power for the last 15 years, it managed to win only eight of the contested 70 seats.

Known traditionally for winning votes by appeasing minorities like the Muslim community in India, the INC failed, losing 70% of Muslim support, compared to the 2008 elections. The resentment toward the INC has stemmed from the unlawful arrest of a Muslim journalist and the lack of increase in salaries for Imams among other things.

But what does Muslim appeasement have to do with gay rights? While Indian Muslims, including Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, have strongly supported gay rights, religious leaders, who generally tend to bring in the votes, welcomed the Supreme Court's decision.


Faced with major defeat, the INC may change its tune despite that a number of prominent leaders have openly opposed the Supreme Court's ruling, including the party's leader Sonia Gandhi who said, "I hope Parliament will address this issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India, including those directly affected by this judgment."

"We need to take quick and firm action," added Kapil Sibal, the country's law minister.

The finance minister, P. Chidambaram went one step further and asked the Home Ministry to contact police stations throughout the country, encouraging them to refrain from harassing or arresting any LGBT individuals. That, however, is in stark contrast to what the 98 page Supreme Court ruling reveals. On page 45 of the verdict, a representative for the Home Ministry argues he opposes decriminalization of the law because the "the societal disapproval thereof was very strong." In addition, the party had four years to amend the law. It never did.

And that's supposedly from the human rights-loving party.

It's almost certain that the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, will sweep the national elections come May. They won the most seats in all four of the states where elections recently concluded. But the party's relationship with human rights is murkier still, and that doesn't account for the nasty vitriol generated by Hindu religious leaders.

For a start, while leaders of the Congress and even the upstart Aam Aadmi Party, which won 28 of the 70 contested seats in Delhi and prevented either of the national parties from forming a government in the capital, have openly opposed the Supreme Court's verdict, the BJP has remained characteristically silent on the subject. A few leaders from the party did come out in support of the ruling, but party's chief, Sushma Swaraj, said, "We will react when we see the government's proposal. We cannot react to the apex court judgment," in a statement issued to the press.

But perhaps what is most terrifying for the LGBT community in India is the possibility that India's next prime minister will be a genocidal dictator. Narendra Modi, widely touted to assume the country's top leadership position, is believed to have been complicit in the murder of thousands of Muslims in communal Hindu-Muslim riots that broke out in the state of Gujrat in 2002, where he was the leader. What started as an alleged burning of a train carrying Hindu nationalists by a Muslim mob led to the rape, massacre, and displacement of thousands of Muslims by the modern Nazi-like outfits of the Hindu Nationalist movement, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.


Image Credit: AP

The police watched silently, as did the state government. A Human Rights Watch report detailing the state's involvement reveals it worked tirelessly to cover its tracks.

What indicates Modi will intervene should police harass members of the LGBT community again? What goes to show that the fickle-minded Indian politians will live up to their promises? And what will prevent LGBT Indians from walking back into the shadows?

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Tanay Warerkar

Tanay is recent graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. He is currently interning for the New York Daily News in the Brooklyn Bureau. He loves to cook Butter Chicken for his friends and is an invincible teammate for a game of charades. Follow him on twitter @toonsyla

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