In 2018, India achieved a historic milestone when the Supreme Court unanimously struck down part of Section 377, a law introduced by its colonial rulers that had lingered for almost 160 years. Among the champions of this momentous change was Indu Malhotra, the seventh woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice, who recently retired. Reflecting on that day, she remarked, “The court was packed with people from the LGBTQ+ community and also some of their parents. There was so much emotion, it was such an atmosphere … There was so much revelry and relief.”
While this legal victory marked a significant step towards acceptance in urban areas, it’s clear that the LGBTQ+ community in India continues to grapple with discrimination, resulting in mental trauma and alienation. According to Malhotra, “Many people from the LGBTQ+ community, because of alienation and hostility from their family, turn suicidal.”
The Lingering Scars of Discrimination
Before decriminalization, LGBTQ+ individuals lived in constant fear. The simple act of getting a blood test was terrifying, as it could lead to further scrutiny of their sexual orientation. Conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice, haunted many LGBTQ+ people as they faced intense pressure from their families to undergo such treatments. Malhotra explained, “I know so many lesbians (whose) parents wanted them to go through conversion therapy or psychological treatment.”
Despite changing attitudes towards homosexuality in cities, smaller towns still hold onto the fear of ridicule and stigma. There remains much work to be done to eliminate these deeply rooted biases.
The Ongoing Battle for Equality
Currently, India’s LGBTQ+ community is awaiting another pivotal decision from the Supreme Court – the legalization of same-sex marriage. This judgment, expected in the coming weeks, could be the most significant development in LGBTQ+ rights in India since the 2018 ruling.
However, the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has voiced opposition to recognizing gay marriage, characterizing it as “urban elitist views” incompatible with the traditional Indian family unit concept.
Indu Malhotra refrains from commenting on the ongoing same-sex marriage case, given its sensitivity. Yet, she acknowledges the transformative power of the 2018 judgment. It emboldened more LGBTQ+ individuals to openly embrace their sexuality, reducing the fear of prosecution or blackmail. As she put it, “What this judgment changed most radically was acceptance and acceptability by their families and societies, so more and more people came out of the closet.”
In the face of persistent challenges, India’s LGBTQ+ community continues to press for equal rights, aiming for a future where discrimination is truly a relic of the past.
Conclusion: A Journey Unfinished
The journey towards full acceptance and equality for India’s LGBTQ+ community is far from over. As they await the decision on same-sex marriage, the resilience and determination displayed over the past five years serve as a testament to the community’s strength. With each legal battle and each individual coming out of the closet, India moves closer to a future where love and identity are celebrated without prejudice.