Everyone wants to live in a society where people get equal opportunities, have the freedom to make important decisions of life on their own and, most importantly, face no opposition on whom they want to fall in love with. Talking about India in general, our country has shown unprecedented progress in many walks of lives ever since gaining independence from the British rule, but there is still a litany of issues which plague the great nation even today. One of them being the existence of draconian Article 377 of Indian Penal Code which makes homosexual behaviour a criminal offence.
Recently, the honourable Supreme Court of India reserved its verdict on a number of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of Article 377. While the final judgement is awaited, the entire LGBTQ community, along with countless supporters across the country, is hopeful that “Acche Din” is finally round the corner for them.
National Film Award-winning film editor and screenwriter Apurva Asrani, who has been one of the most active voices fighting for the basic rights of the LGBTQ community in India, says that there are strong reasons to believe that the law will be repealed or amended.
“From the statements that the Supreme Court justices made during the hearings, we have strong reasons to believe that the law will be repealed/amended to exclude consensual sex between adults. We have faith that after the travesty of 2013, justice will finally be served.”
While many countries across the world are trying their best to provide a life full of dignity to the LGBTQ community by safeguarding their rights, India seems to have taken quite a long time in making up its mind whether it wants to treat a certain segment of the society with love, respect, and dignity or let it remain behind the closet for many more years to come.
When it comes to the representation of homosexuality in Hindi cinema, Bollywood has never shied away from depicting the most disgraceful and caricaturish portrayal of the community. However, things have started changing in those corridors also. Filmmakers have started looking at the issue, as well as, the community with new lenses, shedding their myopic attitude.
Not just its overall opinion and perception, the industry has also changed the way it now treats LGBTQ characters in the movies. Films like Kapoor & Sons (2016) and Dear Dad (2016) are some shining examples of changing attitudes of Bollywood.
One of the most important films on homosexuality which did not trivialize the issue and treated it with utmost sensitivity and dignity was filmmaker Hansal Mehta’s critically acclaimed 2016 film Aligarh. Written by Apurva Asrani, the movie was headlined by powerful actors Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao.
Bajpayee, who played the character of real-life Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras in Aligarh, who was thrown out of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in 2010 after someone filmed him getting intimate with a man, is hopeful that the Supreme Court will take its decision in the favour of the LGBTQ community. Talking about the annulment of Article 377, the award-winning actor says:
“It shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I hope that the Supreme Court takes the decision in the favour of the LGBTQ community, in favour of a healthy society and abolish this act as soon as possible. Let’s be fair to one section of our society that has been living alongside with us.”
Actor Rajkummar Rao, who shared the screen space with Manoj Bajpayee in Aligarh, echoes similar views.
“I really hope Article 377 goes out of our constitution. It’s been a long time. I really believe in equality. I think people should have freedom to choose their partners. They should have the freedom to choose what they want to do in life, as far as nobody is disturbing anyone. It’s very natural. I did a film on this – Aligarh. We have been talking about this since Aligarh days. Before that also, I believed in it. It’s a very natural phenomenon. There is nothing wrong about it.”
Well-known LGBTQ activist Rohan Pujari, who was the first runner-up at Mr. Gay World 2017 and has been working with The Humsafar Trust, India’s first registered LGBTQ organization, for many years now, says the existence of Article 377 annoys him. Rohan is currently in Nepal, working for the betterment of the community in the neighbouring country.
“The existence of Section 377 annoys me, especially when some LGBTQ tourists from other nations tell me that, ‘Oh! India is such a nice place to be, but we don’t want to roam around there as criminals.’ For them, India is not a safe country from tourism point of view. It’s a loss of tourism in India, you see.”
What will remain the biggest question even after the revokement of Section 377 is: Will the stigma attached with alternate sexual inclination go away easily if the controversial article is scrapped?
Apurva feels it is not going to be easy, but if Article 377 is revoked, the community will be, at least, able to take legal and lawful recourse in the face of discrimination, prejudice, and abuse.
“No, it won’t be that easy. It’s been years of conditioning thanks to a 200+ year British law that unfairly deemed a whole community as criminals. Societal attitudes will change slowly, but surely. We have to come out and begin a dialogue with society, and we have to be patient. But the good thing is that when the law is amended, if gay men face prejudice or abuse, they will be able to take legal and lawful recourse, something that is denied to the LGBTQ community right now.”
The apex court is at a historical junction. We hope its verdict make India a better place to live in not just for the majority but minority also. We wish the day arrives soon when love does not feel bound by gender binaries.