Delhi HC order on Section 377 of IPC pumped up the party scene in Delhi overnight
By early 2009, there were rumours and murmurs that there will finally be an order from the Delhi High Court on the Naz Foundation petition on Section 377. We were naturally hopeful but were not sure what to expect.
While the press was now more inclined towards us, if not neutral, there was the UPA government sending out mixed signals. Reports suggested that the Ministry of Home Affairs was opposed to striking down the law as homosexuality could not ‘morally condoned’, whereas the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare contended that Section 377 was ‘counter-productive to the efforts of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment’.
Some friends in the media said even the Congress party was split with the younger lot of leaders and a handful of seniors supporting the reading down of Section 377 whereas the others feared an electoral backlash. Religious groups, of course, invoked some god or the other, using morality of their own making, a measure to judge us, terming us mentally sick and criminals.
But on 2 July 2009, we finally got an order from the Delhi High Court decriminalizing consensual sex between men or ‘gay sex’, a term commonly used!
I was at the Moolchand Hospital with my mother, when the then resident editor of Times of India, Arindam Sengupta, called and said, ‘Hey bugger, you are legit.’ I had no idea what he was talking about so he clarified, ‘Silly guy, the court has supported gay sex.’ Arindam was one caring person. Just the previous year when Ma and I attended Pride together, he had connected with his bureau to ensure no photo of ours got published. He feared that Ma’s social circle would not be kind. ‘Even the corporate world may not have been very generous,’ he had told me later.
I reached home early as instructed by Ma so that I could organize a small get-together that evening of friends including activists and lawyers. I knew almost no activists at that point other than Aditya Bandopadhyay, one of the lawyers. I called him, his then partner and a few other friends most of whom were designers and stylists. From a group of fifteen, we had over thirty at home, chomping on cake and snacking on wafers and nuts and of course drinking a bit before we headed out to a special night at PNP.
It was one of those unusual evenings where gay men had straight friends with them. Some of the heterosexuals, mostly young girls, were just out of college, hanging out with their set of gay men. It was not just about them being a fag hag but also about a certain kind of statement they wished to make that of being modern, liberated and breaking the norm.
I remember one such girl telling me at the spontaneous after-party held at my home that ‘you should be happy this thing is gone’. I could not resist asking what she meant by ‘this thing’ and then asked about Section 377. ‘I don’t know about it but it is good it is gone, na?’ she said, without even batting an eyelid.
She was like many others who cared little but fancied the ‘coolness’ of hanging out with people like us. I remember some of my friends saying that we were mere props or objects that didn’t matter. If we did, they would have engaged with us to know us, how we lived and how harmful and ridiculous Section 377 had been and that their gay friends could be behind bars for having sex with another man!
As much as we wanted to dismiss a girl like her, more because of our angst with society at large, we knew having her on our side mattered at that juncture. It was about safety in numbers for many young men.
The order by Justice A. P. Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar, was not merely historic, it said something that touched us all: ‘Section 377 denies a gay person a right to full personhood which is implicit in notion of life under Article 21’ of the Constitution. At that point many commercial establishments such as bars and cafes opened up in Delhi providing more options than a PNP or a spot on a rooftop bar in CP. I remember an advertisement in a daily lifestyle supplement of a large liquor brand using the rainbow colours for a party to celebrate diversity. Even a ‘Bird Cage’ party was held somewhere.
Even I opened up. That August, Bharat I. Sharma was finally vanquished as I wrote about the new pink economy in the Hindustan Times with one of my colleagues. In an article titled ‘In the Pink of Wealth’ we wrote about Mirage, a pub in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, nightclubs such as Elevate, 24X7 at The Lalit, Tamang Gang at the DLF Promenade and Liquid Kitchen that all had at least one gay night. And the money that could be made on a single night was at least Rs2 lakh, Manish Sharma of Boyzone told us.
The party scene aside, there were parlours such as NYC catering to men only; it was for those of us who felt embarrassed getting waxed or threaded. There was also a more visible gay travel agency— InjaPink that organized holidays for the community.
‘This was bound to happen, Sharif,’ one of my friends told me one evening over drinks. ‘No one remembers what happened in Lucknow and the reason for this case and why we needed Section 377 read down.’
It was in 2001 that the police in Lucknow raided parks as well as the offices of an NGO and picked up male and transgender sex workers, their customers, innocent gay men and other health workers, one by one, alleging a sex racket. Local newspapers to national dailies had characterized our community in the most one-sided way, alleging that those working in the area of AIDS/HIV were essentially people who thrived on prostitution or were a cover for such a ‘business’.
This was the time when Arif Jafar, the man who set up one of the first gay groups in India was tortured. With him, several others lay in jail for over forty days, being denied bail. The then magistrate reportedly called homosexuality a ‘curse on society’ and sections of the Fourth Estate said homosexuality was a Western import. At that time it was more about prejudices than Section 377 itself as anti-sodomy and anti-obscenity laws were used against those who were arrested.
Aditya was amongst the lawyers who first rushed to Lucknow to deal with the case in the lower court. Following him were seniors such as Indira Jaisingh and Anand Grover taking up the matter in the high court. There were very few people speaking up in Lucknow with the exception of Saleem. It was finally voices from Delhi, then Bengaluru and Mumbai that rose to fight the matter. Those were the days that our human rights and such acts of mental and physical torture did not matter at all. I recall Anjali once telling me how she had to fight to save a boy who was undergoing shock therapy at a prestigious hospital in South Delhi to convert him ‘back’ to heterosexuality.
Sadly, such ‘therapy’ continues even now by ‘trusted’ doctors. I had friends being taken to such clinics by their parents, adding to their mental trauma, leading to a further erosion of confidence. Some of them had priests coming home conducting all kinds of prayers and others went through a different kind of hell taking hormone-based pills with shock therapy. I was fortunate that Ma had not pursued such a path with me, nor did my extended family!
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