Thousands of LGBT rights advocates in India and around the world on Sunday took part in “Day of Rage” protests against last week’s India Supreme Court ruling that recriminalized homosexuality.
Activists and their supporters gathered in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkota and other Indian cities to express their outrage over the Dec. 11 decision. Protests also took place outside the Indian embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., in Northwest D.C. and in New York, London, Toronto and other cities.
“I was especially overwhelmed to see parents of individuals from the community standing up for their kids,” Neha Nambier told the Washington Blade after she took part in a protest against the decision in Bangalore in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
Omkar, an engineer from Bangalore who did not provide his last name to the Blade, took part in the same protest.
“This verdict encroaches upon my freedom of living life, and it threatens to snatch my dignity,” he said. “Not just mine, but of everyone else too. Therefore, I feel, I must protest against this verdict and voice my concern.”
Mahesh Natarajan, a gay man who has lived with his partner for nearly a decade, also took part in the Bangalore protest.
“I felt betrayed, let down, outraged,” he told the Blade as he discussed the decision. :For me, it is the supreme court abdicating its responsibility and by throwing us back in the hands of the possibly homophobic majority.”
Nearly three dozen people took part in a candlelight vigil outside the Indian embassy near Dupont Circle on Dec. 13.
Members of KhushDC, a group for LGBT South Asians who live in the Washington metropolitan area, placed a rainbow flag in the hand of the Mahatma Gandhi statue near the intersections of 21st and Q Streets, N.W., and Massachusetts Avenue. An unidentified official with the Indian embassy asked the protesters to remove the flag from the monument before the vigil began.
Nearly two dozen people gathered outside the Indian embassy two days earlier to protest the ruling.
“We are together because we want to show the strength of our community and people have been upset by the incredibly intolerant decision of the Supreme Court of India,” said KhushDC President Sapna Pandya during the Dec. 13 vigil.
Vanlal Hruaia of Cheverly, Md., who is from the Northeastern Indian state of Mizoram between Bangladesh and Myanmar, held a sign written in Hindi script during the candlelight vigil that read “I have loved, not committed a crime.”
He described the 2009 Delhi High Court ruling that struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy law as a “great baby step in moving forward and being open-minded.” Hruaia added he feels the Indian Supreme Court decision that reinstated it is a “Stonewall moment” for LGBT Indians.
“Gays have been marginalized like crazy since British rule came to India,” he said, noting Hinduism recognizes what he described as a third gender. “It’s only when the British came that they marginalized the third-gender people that they’ve been living on the edge of society. And we’ve somehow failed to move beyond that.”
India is now among the 41 U.K. commonwealth countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.
Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress, which is one of the country’s two main political parties, on Dec. 12 criticized the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a Dec. 11 statement described the decision as a “significant step backwards.” She also urged the Indian government to review the ruling.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki last week declined to say how the White House would pressure New Delhi to repeal the country’s colonial-era sodomy law in response to questions from the Blade and other media outlets.
Indian Law Minister Kapil Sibal said his government will consider ways to overturn the decision. It remains highly unlikely lawmakers will decriminalize homosexuality before next year’s elections because members of the socially conservative Bharatiya Janata Party, which observers have labeled as Hindu nationalist, and their political allies will likely block any such proposal.
“The judges seem to have decided that they were speaking for a ‘real India’ that finds all this distasteful or worse and against that view all the legal skill on our side was of no use,” Vikram Doctor of the Times of India newspaper told the Blade. “If anything it confirmed their feelings that this was all elite urban outrage.”
LGBT rights advocates are planning to ask the Indian Supreme Court to reconsider their decision. They are also scheduled to meet in New Delhi on Dec. 22.
“I don’t think this is going to be as easy to change as people are hoping,” said Doctor. “All the support we are seeing now is wonderful and heart-warming, but it remains to be seen how much difference it will make over time and when we are up against this ‘real India’ attitude which is quite widespread.”
Tushar Malik, a Human Rights Campaign fellow from New Delhi, told the Blade during the Dec. 13 vigil outside the Indian embassy in D.C. that a lot of “dissatisfaction with this decision” remains in India.
“It’s a shame to our democracy,” he said.
Harjant Gill, a D.C. anthropologist from Chandigarh in Northern India, said the outrage over the Indian Supreme Court’s decision he has seen on social media networks demonstrates his countrymen increasingly support LGBT rights. He told the Blade after he attended the D.C. vigil on Dec. 13 that most people with whom he has spoken in India since the judges announced their ruling described it as “incredibly stupid.”
“They don’t understand this is moving the country in the wrong direction,” said Gill. “A lot of people see gay rights as a human rights issue and the fact that the India Supreme Court did this says something about their commitment to human rights and that in fact they’re maybe not committed to human rights.”
“Queer Indians have always been a fractured lot across race, caste, religion, economic status, language, gender, sexuality, colour and everything else, and find it hard to come together,” added Natarajan. “This judgment has already brought us together to a larger degree than anything else so far. Every liberal Indian is coming out and speaking out. We got to build on this and make this our stonewall moment. There isn’t any other choice.”
Omkar had a similar message for the court.
“We are simply asking [it to] let consenting adults decide how they express feelings of mutual love and affection,” he told the Blade.