It is time for celebration. For the second time in a decade, history has been made. A court has delivered a verdict that has given the rainbow flags reason to wave.
After being de-criminalised and then re-criminalised, “unnatural sex” as defined by Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has now been de-criminalised, by the highest court in the country, and with such a firm and erudite judgement that bigots would find it very hard to challenge in future.
Uber celebrated with rainbow-coloured route snakes, and Ola celebrated with rainbow-coloured cabs on their apps. People kissed same-sex partners in public, and the media photographers had a field day. Indians and Indian-origin people across the world broke down in relief and joy.
And such is the prevailing idiocy among our Harvard-educated elite that a prominent politician smirks that bestiality might as well be legalised now. Sure, if he can find an animal that will consent to sex in a language we can all understand. When a former professor, with as high an education as one can aspire to, cannot understand the difference between consensual sex between two individuals of the same species, and rape of an animal by a human being, we know we have a long way to go.
The film industry, as the Supreme Court pointed out in its judgement, owes an apology not only to those who have same-sex partners, but to anyone who believes in democracy and the right not to be mocked for who one is, by religion, caste, identified gender, biological sex, ethnicity, appearance, or sexual orientation.
The Tamil film industry has an abysmal record with the portrayal of both transgender people and gay men. Actor-turned-politician-and-television-host Kamal Haasan is among the guilty.
In Gautam Menon’s film Vettaiyaadu Vilayadu, where he plays the lead, he spits out at a criminal duo whose primary hobby is raping and murdering women, “Are you both gays?” (sic.) The contempt in his tone is obvious. One could blame the director and the scriptwriter for the line; but one cannot spare an actor with as much clout as Kamal Haasan, who could have chosen not to speak the line, who would have lost nothing and gained much respect by turning down a role which involved saying those words.
In his own film Vishwaroopam, Kamal Haasan portrays a classical dancer as effete, as someone who is described by his wife as “not a man” and referred to with the pronoun “adhu”, typically used for inanimate, and therefore genderless, objects.
A few days ago, I watched a film, which has been universally panned (with good reason) – Vanjagar Ulagam. The main character in the film is purportedly driven to a life of crime because of the ragging he faces in his hostel on account of being gay. “The world will not accept this,” he says, and goes on a murder spree. He is also diagnosed as mentally ill.
Such portrayals are even more troublesome than the horror that was Dostana, because in these cases, filmmakers believe they actually have progressive ideas and are making the audience “think” – except, they’re making the audience think about why gay men should be driven to a life of crime, a loaded and extremely problematic assumption.
As for the fetishisation of lesbian sex in pornography, and its packaging as something that tantalises heterosexual men, the less said the better.
Outside the film industry, too, India has very little to say for itself in terms of its treatment of the community.
The Transgender Rights Bill 2016, a watered down version of the bill originally tabled by Rajya Sabha MP Trichy Siva as a private member’s bill, denies more rights than it guarantees to transgender people.
Transgender people have a hard time finding jobs, retaining them when they undergo transition, and finding homes.
Few people are sensitive to pronouns with which transgender individuals identify.
Few people are aware of the difference between transgender and intersex individuals.
As for the “A” in LGBTQIA, Asexual, most of the world is either unaware of, or unwilling to recognise, asexuality as an orientation.
This is particularly important in the context of forced marriages, both for asexual and homosexual individuals. When the cis-heterosexual partner is female, it leads to bewilderment and perhaps frustration. But when the cis-heterosexual partner is male, capable of forced penetration and impregnation, the partner whose sexual orientation is not recognised becomes a victim.v
Yes, let us celebrate the judiciary, and let us celebrate democracy.
But let us also keep in mind that a judgement does not grant rights, and it does not grant acceptance.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
V S Naipaul: The man the world loved to hate
The legacy of Karunanidhi
“Rapistan”: There are no safe places
The “most dangerous country” poll should not make us defensive
The illusion of secularism
When hooliganism is state-sanctioned
Tarun Tejpal case: When the media plays jury
Karnataka: Death of democracy
India shining as ecosystems die?
Tamil Nadu: The land of the lawless
When death does not deter
Power play at a time of crisis
A country in denial
The gods have left the temples
What cricketers’ reactions to ball-tampering show
Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage.