"Try Men, Will Be Fun": Living With Section 377, Stigma In Small Towns

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra today indicated that the 150-year-old ban on gay sex may soon be gone.

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Under Section 377, sex "against the order of nature" draws a jail term and a fine

Lucknow: 

For 23-year-old Megha Nandi, pursuing a graphic design course, being an open lesbian in a smaller city like Lucknow - even in these times when the Supreme Court is hearing cases to repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises gay sex - comes with a unique set of challenges. Challenges, Ms Nandi says she and her girlfriend would not probably face in a bigger metro city. 

"We were sitting at this prominent cafe in Lucknow. My girlfriend left her number in the feedback form. The next day my girlfriend got a call from the manager of the cafe commenting on our sexual orientation and asking why don't you enjoy with men? Her response was who are you? And he was like 'I am the cafe manager and you don't mind - try men, maza aayega (you will enjoy it)', he said." 

"I feel the situation in say a Kolkata or a Delhi is better, people are more open minded. But again, you can't blame the city, it is the people's mindset", Ms Nandi says when asked if she felt the situation in India's metro cities is better.

But more than just comments and jeers, 27-year-old Jatin Mishra and 23-year-old Love Preet, both gay men from Lucknow, say homosexuals in small town India can face threats, blackmail, and even violence in the name of Section 377. 

"A friend of mine, he was smoking with his partner and the police took them away. Later they were made to perform sexual acts. He just let it go, he could not do anything about it", says Mr Preet. 

Jatin Mishra describes what is a daily ordeal for him and many others like him. "I was on the road and two boys were going on the road and they said - dekho hijra jaa raha hai (Look, a eunuch). I confronted them and asked them why they were saying this, they repeated the remark. I think Delhi is a more open space but otherwise there is no difference because those who do not accept you, won't, in any city", says Mr Mishra.

A 60-year-old gay man, who did not want to be identified, told NDTV he shifted to Lucknow from Delhi in 2003, after years of working with big corporates. For him, and many others in Lucknow not fully out of the closet, the Supreme Court hearing and its observations about Section 377 in the last two days - where it has hinted at a relook, have held out a lot of hope. 

"For people who have for the better part of their lives lived under this constant fear, its mind-blowing to think I don't have to worry about this if the Supreme Court ruling goes through", he says. 

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra today indicated that the 150-year-old ban on gay sex may soon be gone. "We intend to rule, subject to arguments, that two consenting adults even if engaged in 'unnatural sex' will not be liable for prosecution for any offence," Chief Justice Misra said. The observation of the court, which is hearing a bunch of petitions calling for decriminalization of gay sex and scrapping of the relevant law under Section 377, came after the government said it would leave the decision to the five-judge constitution bench.

Earlier today, the government -- which earlier upheld the gay sex law -- left it to the court to decide whether the 150-year-old law banning gay sex will remain and whether it is constitutionally valid. The change in stand came after a landmark Supreme Court order on the Right To Privacy, in which the court said the law can't "trample or curtail" the constitutional right to life and liberty.

Under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, sex "against the order of nature" draws a jail term and a fine. While prosecutions under it has been rare, activists say the police use the law to harass members of the LGBT community.

In last year's landmark judgment on Right To Privacy, the Supreme Court said the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population are "real rights founded on sound constitutional doctrine".

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