This September, the Supreme Court of India passed a historic judgement of decriminalizing homosexual relationships between consenting individuals. It struck down on the IPC section 377 after a 17-year long legal battle. The Bangalore Literature Festival had Anjali Gopalan who is the Founder and Executive Director of the Naz Foundation (India) Trust in conversation with Alok Prasanna Kumar, an advocate and Senior Resident Fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. The Naz foundation was one of the first teams that took up the cause of homosexuals along with Humsafar team as early as 2001 and Anjali spoke about the difficult journey from then until September 2018.
The Naz foundation was originally working with HIV patients. Since the homosexual community was more prone to AIDS, Anjali began working with the community and took up their cause more on a health standpoint. The society in 2001 wasn’t ready to talk about sexuality and homosexual rights yet, so her work, initially, was focused on the health concerns of this community.
Anjali recollected the times when people had come to her for counselling and asked her if there was a medicine to cure homosexuality. The parents who brought their children to her for counselling believing she would imbibe some sense into them, never returned when they heard her empathize with their children. Some parents were ready to acknowledge the sexuality of their children but would still want them to be married to the opposite gender to save their face in society.
The turning point for Anjali, in this case, was when a young man returned to her and told her about the shock treatment he was given in one of Delhi’s major hospital to cure homosexuality. The next day, Anjali found herself, in front of the National Human Rights Commission. However, they refused to accept her petition and then began the legal battle.
The Delhi High court which wasn’t favourable to the activists in 2001, gave a remarkable judgement in 2009. This judgement gave voice to a lot of young gay people. The judgement also made it certain that we can no longer sweep the issue of homosexuality under the carpet and pretend that it doesn’t happen in India. The judgement also united all the Hindu, Muslim and Christian groups, who came together to challenge the judgement since homosexuality was against the morals of their faith. But then, more gay couples came out and the court took cognizance of that, which became a critical factor for the later rulings.
Speaking of her experience as a public interest litigant, Anjali says that one must understand that the legal battles are always prolonged and one must keep going. All the violence and threats also must be dealt with. But, a legal battle is a better way to go about things, because we are not sure what to expect out of the legislators. She says, some of the young parliamentarians who empathise with her cause in private refuse to take a stance in public. However, she also believes that more young people should take up the mantle and that might bring out better changes in the society sooner.
About the Author: Jeevanayagi Ganapathy is Founder Editor and Writer at Bookstalkist.