There are many lines you can read again and again from the 2009 Delhi High Court judgment—commonly known as the Naz case—that decriminalized same-sex sexual relations in India. Let me give you one that has stayed with me since that day in the courtroom:
For every individual, whether homosexual or not, the sense of gender and sexual orientation of the person are so embedded…that the individual carries this aspect of his or her identity wherever he or she goes. While recognizing the unique worth of each person, the Constitution does not presuppose that the holder of rights is an isolated, lonely and abstract figure possessing a disembodied and socially disconnected self. It acknowledges that people live in their bodies, their communities, their cultures, their places and their times.
Bodies, communities, cultures, places and times. In one sentence, the judges reminded us of what we talk about when we talk about sexuality. Not just sexual orientation or gender identity, meant to be only about some people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Not just something called “gay rights,” somehow separated from other intrinsic rights and freedoms.
As a gay man, this is what I read and heard in Naz: the possibility of, and insistence on, dignity. Sexuality as dignity becomes something else in our hands.
Moving, perhaps forward
In 2015, a student at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru was blackmailed and threatened with being publicly exposed for being gay. When he refused to pay extortion money, the private letters turned into notices pinned on noticeboards on campus. The words were sharp, relentless and inhumane: “I think it’s completely shameful, bad, immoral and disgusting. You should go kill yourself. Why do you think it’s illegal to be gay in India?”
For many queer people, this moment is familiar. It is one that many of us have faced or live in constant fear of facing. In some ways, it is the latter that is worse….