Getting Rid of Section 377 is Only the Beginning

The Supreme Court is still in the process of deciding whether it wants to scrap Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). It’s likely that the law will be read down, and it will no doubt be an historic moment for our country. However, it will only be a symbolic victory.

When India prohibited discrimination on the basis of caste a similar feeling of elation must have swept the country. Yet, it only takes a quick Google search to see that casteism still thrives in India. Consider this: according to a 2016 report by the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB), there were 207 incidences of caste-related violence in Bengaluru alone. And how can we forget what happened in Una on July 11, 2016.

Mistreatment despite the law – or even by state agencies – is nothing new in India. Nor is it limited to any specific minority group. And so, if or when the SC decides to strike down 377, India’s queer community will become yet another minority group that is protected under law – but only in name.

We can create as many laws as we want to guarantee people their rights, or protect them from harm. But laws are only useful if they’re upheld.

What will happen when a gay man wants to lodge a complaint against his employer for discriminatory behaviour? On the slim chance that such a case reaches the courts, the complainant will have to suffer lengthy delays, and the costs that come with it.

Simply put, it is something of an achievement to receive justice in our country.

Most cases don’t even reach the courts. They will either not be reported (for fear of retribution or ostracisation) or not recorded. A public survey of Delhi and Mumbai by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in 2015 shows that less than half of the crimes reported actually led to FIRs.

A nationwide study conducted by TISS on the ‘Non registration of crimes’ produced similarly disconcerting results. The report also shines the spotlight on the role of caste and creed in the reporting (and not) of crimes. According to the report, the police are more likely to record FIRs if the complainant belongs to the general category. No action was taken or known to have been taken in 32% of the cases where the complainants were Muslim. Justice is selective in our country.

It’s not that we are unaware of the existence of these issues. Every year we raise a hue and cry about reservations in Delhi University, but then pretend to not notice caste in other spheres of life. We’re bound by comfortable apathy. It will take some truly inhuman atrocity to move us into acting against injustice.

The problem is that our usual response of public outcry and protest doesn’t seem to yield the desired results. Protests at best can help bring about legislation and speed up court proceedings. Yet, what is the use of tabling a bill when we know that it will either not pass at all or be diluted to death and be reduced to a token gesture? Look at what happened to the 2013 Lokpal Bill.

Striking down Section 377 will not nurture tolerance if our public institutions continue to embolden hate mongers and fail to support victims of discrimination. Strange that we need to appeal to something as cold as the state to earn the right to love. And yet, it is necessary.

So we should take this historic moment to access what we need to do in the future. As citizens, members and allies, our role cannot be limited to protest and outcry.

Sureet Singh is a 21-year-old economics student from NMIMS, Mumbai. Find him on Twitter @_kenoshakid

Featured image credit: Dmitri Popov/Unsplash