Why Supreme Court decriminalising homosexuality will not bring in immediate changes

The homophobia, so blatant and visceral, will persist

A member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community waves a flag outside the Supreme Court | AFP

On Thursday, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India said Section 377 was arbitrary. "We must recognise individuality. LGBT community possess equal rights," said Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, reading out the judgment on the much-awaited gay rights verdict.

"Sexual orientation is one of many biological phenomena. It is natural and no discrimination can exist. Any violation is against freedom of speech and expression," said CJI Misra, while Justice Nariman observed that homosexuality cannot be regarded as a "mental disorder".

"To deny LGBT community of their right to sexual orientation is a denial of their citizenship and a violation of their privacy. They cannot be pushed into obscurity by an oppressive colonial legislation," said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

Quite expectedly, the LGBTQ community broke into a joyous uproar. Streets turned rainbow; there were shouts, cheers, tears and hugs everywhere. However, lost in this din of happy clamour and hurrays is the reality that all that the judgment may have achieved is to throw out a draconian law which has its moorings in Victorian morality. But will a change in law do anything to bring along an immediate change in attitudes and mindsets of people? The answer is not hard to find. India is yet to rise above the stereotypical gender roles when it comes to family, marriage and raising kids. A departure from the traditional role of man as breadwinner and woman as homemaker is still difficult for many to fathom. In a system where the parameters of success are defined by the jobs you hold and the family you marry from, even well-meaning parents may find it hard to let their son or daughter to love and live with a person of their choice.

The struggle to come out in front of parents, friends and others will still take as much courage as before the judgment. To the urban men and women, the struggle may be relatively easy as it is not hard for them to have support groups, understanding friends and even tolerant parents. But to those in the rural parts of the country, where even heterosexual people are not allowed to choose partners of their liking, the judgment and the jubilation that followed will make scant difference. Grindr can't work in places where even Tinder won't. There are hardly any forum for gays, lesbians and others to meet up and express themselves freely and fearlessly. The hashtags and Twitter campaigns will hardly have an effect in places where people believe that homosexuality is a mental disorder that needs to be 'cured' with prayers, supplications and medicines.

Imagine being gay in a place where being bachelor, non-vegetarian or a person belonging to a minority community would diminish your chances of finding a rented space. You will still have prospective landlords telling you that you can rent out a home only if you are a vegetarian with wife and kids. You may still need a beard—a gay or lesbian friend to act as your spouse—to find place for rent and lie about your food habits as usual. The homophobia, so blatant and visceral, will persist. Anything 'different' from the 'normal' will still be perceived deviant. Sure, the court order may be harbinger of good times to come, but the desired changes will take decades to realise. In the meantime, harassment, intolerance, discrimination and even violence will be reality to the gays, lesbians and transgenders. The many slurs and insults are unlikely to find an abrupt end and the invasive (and insensitive) questions continue to be posed. The fringe factions of every sect will still taunt and harass if you decide to openly profess your affections on the streets. There will still be homophobic jokes in mainstream movies and shows.

Although many would want to believe otherwise, religion is still a major part of India's social fabric. The Supreme Court striking down Section 377 is highly unlikely to bring in a change in the outlook of the religious authorities. If you still care for your scriptures and rituals, you will find it extremely difficult to find a church/temple to marry and a priest/pastor to bless your marriage. The vitriolic comments and condemnation of your sexual orientation will continue unabated as the scriptures of all monotheistic religions are averse to the idea of homosexuality. And the gender fluidity of the gods and goddesses in Hinduism will hardly come to aid of those who decide to affirm their sexual identity. It is always easy to alter the laws of the land than the rules that derive its origins from scriptures and religious writings.

Sure, no one is expecting overnight changes. The Supreme Court judgment is merely a stepping stone in the right direction of an inclusive India. There needs to be much more conversations, involving students, parents, authorities and activists, and these should not be limited to urban spaces. The discussions occasionally tend to become a bonding space of the economically elite and intellectually affluent, a propensity that requires immediate change. The battle is hardly half won.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the publication.