Post-Section 377: Darjeeling and Sikkim in Context

Two years ago, on 6th September 2018, the Supreme Court of India in its historical verdict ruled down portions of Indian Penal Code Section 377 (IPC S.377 hence) in Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India judgement. The IPC S. 377 read thus: “Unnatural offences – Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with […] The post Post-Section 377: Darjeeling and Sikkim in Context appeared first on The Sikkim Chronicle - Sikkim News.

Post-Section 377: Darjeeling and Sikkim in Context

Two years ago, on 6th September 2018, the Supreme Court of India in its historical verdict ruled down portions of Indian Penal Code Section 377 (IPC S.377 hence) in Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India judgement.

The IPC S. 377 read thus: “Unnatural offences – Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall be liable to fine” (see, Alok Gupta’s, “Section 377 and the Dignity of Indian Homosexuals.” EPW, November 2006).

Before the verdict of 2018, numerous pleas to abolish this law by different individuals, groups and NGOs, like NAZ Foundation, had been made. Accordingly, the case had undergone various developments of decriminalisation and re-criminalisation, like the 2009 and 2014 verdict of Delhi High Court and Supreme Court, respectively.

Finally, S. 377 was ruled down because it “violate[d] Articles 14, 15 and 21 insofar as it penalise[d] any consensual sexual relationship between two adults in private, be it homosexual, heterosexual, lesbian or transgender persons” (see, Ziad Al Baset’s “Supreme Court Judgment against Section 377: The Tasks Ahead.” EPW, September 2018).

With the ruling down of this law, a part of the population, marginalised in terms of gender and sexuality, could sense the legal support towards their “sexual citizenship”. This is crucial for their identity as it had always remained within the fringes of the societal upper hand. Thus, for a very long time, they have been misrepresented as people who are concerned only with the demands of sexual freedom.

Consequently, there has been, still is, misunderstanding that elements that go on to shape an individual as human, emotions and passions, is missing in the LGBTQI community. The legal framework has opened its space to accommodate the LGBTQI as citizens with full right to carry out their lives as they desire. The challenge is otherwise, as the broader question is in the social front. Are we ready to accept LGBTQI as a part of our society?

The mainstream media might be trying to accommodate the sexually marginalised characters in unconventional limelight, unlike what it did for ages by stereotyping. Movies like Subh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020), where the homosexual characters are just the next door ‘normal’ boys/men; or in the miniseries Aarya (2020), inspector Khan is a regular police officer, though a homosexual in a closet―may be attempting to break the stereotype labelled on homosexuals as being feminine or girlish. Such developments might enable us to think about the LGBTQI community a little differently.

It might shift the focus on LGBTQI from being obsessed with mere sexual identity or material gains to other important aspects of life, concerning their health and well-being. Still, though it is repetitive, the question remains open for thought, are we, in the social front, accommodative enough to accept LGBTQI as one of us even after two years of the legal reading down of Section 377?

When Section 377 was decriminalised for consensual adults, there were Queer Pride Marches across the country to celebrate the verdict. Though such marches were organised earlier too to celebrate one’s identity, post-377 marches held a different significance.

The assertion of identity is a political stand to show one’s presence and it is always a matter of contestation. Such Pride Marches were carried out in Darjeeling, West Bengal in December 2018 and Gangtok, Sikkim in January 2019―first of their kind― where the LGBTQI community came forward to show their presence.

The videos are available in YouTube to entitle: “’LGBTQQ’ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning Queer” and “Queer pride walk in Gangtok”. This move was supported by many people, however, it also brought to the fore many of the prejudices prevalent in our society towards sexually marginalised people. 

A few days after the verdict, a team of local youngsters conducted random interviews to elicit the views of other young people of Darjeeling on homosexuality and reading down of Section 377.

The video is entitled “What Darjeeling Thinks of Homosexuality”, some of the reactions to the questions posed were sensible. Conversely, some reactions were simply appalling, especially those coming from young people “considered” to be vibrant and progressive than the previous generation.

It was quite understandable that they did not have much idea about this topic, but the immediate flare of negative reaction, and candid acknowledging of “homophobia” was/is worrisome. Some commented that they have nothing to do with it, and some cited religion to denounce homosexual(s)/ity. 

It is almost two years of the ruling down of Section 377, and things might not have been positive for a lot of them. The first pride march in Darjeeling and Sikkim did not have follow-up march/es. Have we silenced the LGBTQI community with our indifferent attitude of their rights? Is it time to educate people about sexuality and gender so that there is more awareness about it?

Though, the big question remains as to who would take the initiative. I guess that the responsibility lies with everyone collectively in society. Some people make an effort to come out of closet and society penalises him/her/them for being different by teasing/taunting them. Some people are scared to talk about their sexuality, even to their close friends, as they are scared of being judged.

The resultant forced heterosexual marriage of a homosexual person to save oneself from familial and societal pressures has spoiled many lives. Hence, a holistic understanding is important, and people need to talk and discuss it so that life becomes a little easier and peaceful for everyone. In the world where there is so much fight, anger, animosity, to quote the lead gay character of Still About Section 377 II, a web series of 2018: “Love can never be wrong.”

Writes, Bhaskar Lama. He teaches at the University of Hyderabad and can be contacted at bhasu.lama@gmail.com

Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.

Read more related articles:

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Controversial Trans Bill 2019, now law

SC verdict on section 377 turns one; not much turnaround for the LGBTQ+

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