It has been nearly two years since the Supreme Court of India struck down a portion of Article 377 in the country’s penal code, ending a ban on consensual gay sex that had been in place for more than a century, since the time of British rule in India.
This was a landmark decision, and marked a major change for LGBTQ people in India. But what has changed? Were there other legal changes? Has there been social change, or just legal? What makes this change so important? Let’s take a look and try to answer some of these questions.
Legal Changes for LGBTQ People
The main change is clear: it is no longer illegal for two people of the same sex to have consensual intercourse. That’s great news! It means that people in the LGBTQ community can be less afraid of legal persecution for being themselves.
For years, LGBTQ people had been being told that what they were doing was against the law. This made them afraid of legal persecution. It also led to feelings of shame, doubt, and sometimes anger.
It also means that the police don’t have as much basis to punish LGBTQ people for their sexuality. For years, police had used Article 377 to justify attacking LGBTQ people. Police and other government agencies also used it to shut down fights for gay rights. Now, that excuse is no longer there.
The ruling has also cleared the way for other legal changes. One of the most prominent ones was when the Madras High Court ruled to change the definition of “bride” to include trans women. This ruling also directed local authorities to recognize a marriage between a man and a trans woman, setting a precedent for future marriage equality.
Although there has been great legal change, there is also still a lot to fight for. For example, full marriage equality has yet to be reached. Activists still have a long fight ahead of them before they can hope for that.
Additionally, many trans people are still fighting for rights. In many places, they still cannot have their marriage recognized by authorities. There are measures in place preventing them from accessing welfare that many others can get, so they end up on the street more.
For all LGBTQ people, there are still restrictions for their jobs. They cannot hold government office, and can’t work in schools. These are issues that must be fixed for LGBTQ people to be able to live happily. And the end of Article 377 has made it easier for activists to try and fix them.
All over the country, there is fighting going on in the lower courts, on these issues and many others. Hopefully, the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2018 will inspire other courts to make similar decisions in favor of LGBTQ people and their rights. And if that doesn’t happen, other issues could end up in front of the high courts, leading to more large changes across the country. The change may be slow, but it is speeding up.
Article 377 and Social issues of LGBTQ people
Amending or disposing of a law is a great start, but it doesn’t do much to address the underlying social issues. After all, it was social beliefs that led to the law, and those beliefs are still very much present. So while the repeal of Article 377 was important, it was only a stepping stone for social justice.
Many have compared the ruling to being like the cap off a bottle full of pressure— now that the bottle has been opened, more and more change will occur, both legally and socially.
The hope is that the case will prompt discussion all over the country. For years, Indians have used Article 377 to support their homophobic beliefs: “the law says it’s not ok, so it must not be”. Now, with the law gone, people will be forced to confront their beliefs. They may be more open to conversations with others, and possibly open to changing their ideas.
In many places, this has been seen. Not only are more conversations about LGBTQ people happening, but many youth feel more comfortable in coming out. Many families are becoming more accepting, although that is not true for all.
But that doesn’t mean the fight is over. Even though more people are coming out, they still struggle when doing so. People still face the risk of losing their job, reputation, and social standing if they admit to being LGBTQ. Plus, the risk of violence and hatred is as present as ever.
Families continue to be one of the largest issues. With India’s large families, many people face opposition from their extended family members when they come out as LGBTQ. They can risk losing their support systems, their financial security, and their entire family. The repeal of Article 377 has not done much to help this.
There is also the issue of domestic violence. LGBTQ people in India are much more likely to be the victims of such violence. It can be from their father, mother, siblings, aunts, uncles, or other extended family members.
Many people feel threatened by LGBTQ people, because they don’t understand them. For this reason, they can react with violence towards others, especially when it is their own family. This makes coming out for anyone in India, especially kids, much more dangerous.
All of these social pressures can often lead to someone ending up on the street. They may lose their job, the support of their family and friends, or both, leaving them with nowhere to go, and they have limited access to welfare to help them out.
More and more shelters have been popping up all over India to help with this. However, there’s not enough of them, and LGBTQ people can’t always access them. It’s a grim situation.
Clearly, there is still a lot of change to be had socially. After all, the real fight comes not in the legal changes, but the social ones. Decriminalizing consensual gay sex was a great start. But now the hard work begins: changing people’s minds and more laws at least enough that LGBTQ people in India can feel safe to come out, stay at their job, and be loved by their family.