Section 377 Verdict: An Ode to Love, Equality and Freedom

Not too long ago, Sarmand, a naked fakir walked the streets of Delhi reciting couplets of ishq and faith. His love for a young Hindu man named Abhai Chand was well-known. Among the many poems he wrote, a couplet worth recalling is: “When I wrote, you were the verse. When I sang, you were the song!” It remains unclear who he was talking of, but the love remains iridescent.

Until Thursday afternoon, Sarmand would have been a criminal on multiple counts in India. He would probably have been booked under Section 377 –  a Victorian law that made his love and his desire illegal and, for some, immoral. A law that made all our desires unnatural and unacceptable.

Now with the reading down of this archaic, unequal and unnatural law, all love becomes acceptable. This isn’t a judgement that gives freedom and equality to the LGBTQIA+ community alone, but an opportunity for us – Indians who believe in the ideas of equality, freedom and inclusiveness – to begin a new conversation about ourselves. It signals new beginnings for us all.

The judgement brings to us the promise of a new paradigm – where equality can be explored through a forgotten framework of inclusiveness which looks beyond, gender, class, caste, religion and sexual orientation in this unquiet land. In many ways, it was the India that was promised but never delivered.

The judgement, though long awaited, could not have come at a better time. This certainty, this hope for a new India comes despite our politicians, who play the games of love and hate, caste and religion. It comes despite the lynchings and the hate speeches, it comes from our faith in our collective humanity and our faith in this republic. It rises from that idea of India that is founded on the bedrock of inclusiveness, freedom and dignity.

We lived, until recently, in fear but never in doubt about love and our rights to it. Now we claim the possibility – to love, light and freedom. We celebrate not just because the LGBTQIA+ individuals are finally equal in the eyes of the law – “Take me as I am,” said an honourable judge – but also because for once we should all feel equal. With this, we open ourselves to new possibilities. The ground beneath our feet remains firm, our choices certain and our dignity unassailable.

The journey, however, has only just begun. Love, freedom, equality will come with greater efforts. This new paradigm will need to be sustained. The fragmentation will need to be addressed. The naysayers will work harder, society will not change easily, nor will prevalent social norms. Not to forget our own prejudices. Yet the change is already here – trying to wash away prejudice and oppression one raindrop at a time. We will have to struggle, perhaps every day. But for the moment, this promise of change, this day of hope is thrilling enough.

What will the judgement mean for all of us? The judgement promises inclusiveness, equality and freedom, but it doesn’t hand them to us. We will also have to also recognise the intersectionality within us – caste, class and gender will continue to impact who remains vulnerable and who doesn’t.

The judgement seeks to fulfil that idea that India has forgotten, that majoritarianism cannot override fundamental rights. It is our job now to spread this message to everyone who is vulnerable in our country. We have to work together to create a new politics and bring it into the mainstream. Our opponent won’t just be prejudice, it will be deep-seated patriarchy and mistaken ideas about masculinity. We will have to chip at the patriarchy every single day.

For the LGBTQIA+ community in particular, we need to move towards expanding their rights to include issues such as the right to form partnerships, inheritance, employment equality, protection from gender-identity-based discrimination among others. Until we do so, we will continue to face unequal treatment and discrimination in workplaces and housing, violence and denial of recognition.

We have to seek strength from each other and our lived experiences. We have to give up self-hate and embrace self-love. We will have to create a shared empathy from our common problems and create networks where we support each other. Every day will be a battle and every change a victory. But then, that is how we arrived to see this day.

The judgement is an opportunity to unlearn for all of us – for the oppressed and the oppressor. For our political class, our law enforcement, our health establishment, our workplaces and society at large. It’s a process of starting a conversation where everyone must be included, and love not hate is the moot issue. We need to be bold yet discerning and see the future with new eyes. Freedom is neither easily won nor kept. To quote Sarmand “The remedy for pain, is the pain.”

Chapal Mehra is a writer and public health consultant. He tweets @ChapalMehra. 

Featured image credit: Reuters