Hemant Kumar’s dream of a simple life, complete with a loving husband, a doting daughter, and the respectability that comes with being a traditional family man in small-town India, was once a distant hope. However, the historic 2018 ruling by India’s Supreme Court to decriminalize homosexuality breathed life into the dreams of millions of LGBTQ+ individuals like Kumar living in towns across the country.
Kumar, a 21-year-old student residing in Jamshedpur, a steel manufacturing town in eastern India, now dares to imagine finding love, openly cohabiting with a partner, and raising a child without the shadows of fear. “From my childhood, in my family and in my society, everyone has a family. So inside myself, there is a father who wants a kid,” Kumar shared.
While India’s legal landscape now supports same-sex relationships, LGBTQ+ topics remain taboo in many socially conservative corners of the nation. Discrimination continues to cast a long shadow over rural LGBTQ+ life, with forced marriages and conversion therapy persisting.
Koyel Ghosh, managing trustee of Sappho for Equality, an organization advocating for the rights of lesbians, bisexual women, and trans men, notes, “When it comes to civil rights, when it comes to basic rights, I don’t think there is much being done.” The newfound openness has introduced new challenges, particularly for young LGBTQ+ individuals who sometimes face family violence.
The Winds of Change
The 2018 Supreme Court judgment was a transformative moment, liberating LGBTQ+ individuals in major cities and fostering hope that change would ripple through the entire country. Before the ruling, dating or coming out for those like Kumar, living in small towns like Seraikela, was unimaginable. But post-decriminalization, he found the courage to come out to close friends and discovered a supportive community.
Beyond just legal freedom, dozens of towns and cities far from India’s metropolitan centers have launched Pride parades celebrating LGBTQ+ culture. The National Medical Commission banned conversion therapy in 2022, labeling it “professional misconduct.” The business sector is also adapting to the changing environment by promoting inclusivity through the ‘Workplace Equality Index.’
Social media is abuzz with LGBTQ+ events, from club nights to film festivals, enabling individuals to openly share their identities with friends and family. Schools are incorporating LGBTQ+ issues into curricula and taking steps to protect LGBTQ+ students from bullying.
The Road Ahead
With the battle for decriminalization won, the next focus for LGBTQ+ activists in India is legalizing same-sex marriage. A court ruling on the issue is expected soon, with 18 young couples petitioning the Supreme Court for recognition.
While attitudes toward same-sex relationships have improved, challenges persist. Recent crimes against LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly the trans community, highlight the ongoing struggle for acceptance. The fight for same-sex marriage, spanning adoption, healthcare, and pensions, is met with government opposition.
In the words of Menaka Guruswamy, a lawyer advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, this fight represents a quest for a “bouquet of rights” for LGBTQ+ couples. The government contends that legalizing same-sex marriage reflects “urban elitist views” incompatible with the traditional Indian family concept.
As Anand Chandrani, founder of Sarathi Trust, an LGBTQ+ community organization in Nagpur, observes, “Our struggle is not over yet.” In a country where marriage holds profound significance, the journey towards full acceptance and equality continues.