NEW DELHI – India’s LGBT community marked on Friday the first anniversary since the country’s top court overturned a colonial-era article banning same-sex relations. Despite the milestone and year of freedom, discrimination remains and progress has been slow, activists say.
But the anniversary still called for celebrations to commemorate the groundbreaking and unanimous decision of India’s Supreme Court on Sept. 6 last year, which decriminalized homosexuality in the socially and politically conservative society.
“It has been a strong validation … for the whole community. There is the feeling of being affirmed,” Shaunak Mahbubani, a curator based in the southern India city of Bengaluru, told EFE.
“When we look at it socially, I think the changes have been slower, I think that a year is a very short period to see a change,” the curator continued.
Mahbubani said that while the Supreme Court ruling brought legal relief to the community, “unfortunately harassment happens through other mechanisms, in that sense it is only a first step in a very long process.”
Mahbubani was co-organizing an event called Queer Futures Potluck Party with another activist, Vidisha Fadescha, to celebrate the hard-fought victory.
Anjali Gopalan, a human rights activist who was one of the crusaders in the fight to revoke Section 377, a hangover from the period of British colonial rule that banned same-sex sexual relations, said the court verdict didn’t mean that the LGBT community had won all its rights.
“Like the right to marry, the right to inherit, the right to take care of your partner. You can’t deny equal rights to anybody because of their sexuality, but unfortunately that’s exactly what happened,” Gopalan told EFE.
“Overall it takes time and I think we have to do a number of things to make that happen. And part of it is also how do you engage with society, how do you form larger coalitions to make things work. It’s a long process.”
There is no official estimate of the number of gay or transgender people in India, but it is believed there are millions who belong to the community.
India’s Supreme Court recognized “transgender” as a third sex in a 2014 ruling and in July this year, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced a bill to enshrine the rights of trans people.
The bill passed in the lower house of parliament and is now in the upper house, but community members and human rights activists have raised concerns over the bill.
“We don’t want this empty bill that is completely against the trans-community,” said Grace Banu, a transgender activist.
Banu said it was tough to expect equal rights for the gay community from the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party government, known for its conservative stance on many social issues.
Even Human Rights Watch has expressed its concern over the proposed legislation, calling it a “remarkable achievement for a long-persecuted community,” but whose current draft “fails on the fundamental right to self-identify.”
One year after the victory for the LGBT population of India, a transgender couple who both underwent sex re-assignment tied the knot in India’s eastern city of Kolkata in what was widely believed to be West Bengal’s first transgender wedding.
The bride, Tista Das, 38, is a renowned activist and a vocal champion for transsexual rights in India. She underwent sex reassignment surgery in 2004.
Das said her life has always been a tough ride in the face of social stigma but being with a life partner of her choice made her life significant and gave her “a reason to live.”