Exactly two years ago, on 11 December 2013, the Supreme Court of India reversed the Delhi High Court’s landmark 2009 decision to deem Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, India’s colonial-era anti-sodomy law, unconstitutional. In its judgment, the Supreme Court noted that “only Parliament can change a law, not courts.”
With few other legislative avenues open for the legalisation of “acts of carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” the hopes of India’s queer activists rest upon a curative petition currently pending before the Supreme Court, which could reverse its 2013 decision. Currently, however, there is no clear timeline for a response from the court.
In the lead-up to Delhi’s eighth Queer Pride march, held on 29 November this year, its organisers were worried. They were unsure how the lack of any definitive legislative action would affect attendance. At a pre-Pride preparatory picnic held one week before the parade, 31-year-old Manak Matiyani, a member of the Delhi Queer Pride Organising Committee, said that the effect of the petition's status “could go either way. It could incite people to get out, because they’re angry.” But Matiyani also suggested that it might have had a more chilling effect, given the hostile political climate, and result in a muted turnout. “After the judgment, there’s been a lot of clampdowns supported by the government and government silence, particularly on issues of sexuality and sexual freedom.” The conservative tenor of the current government and supporters of the ruling party left Matiyani and other organisers anxious. “It is in the back of our minds,” he said, “What if the government doesn’t give permission, or the RSS shows up? Because it’s also criminal. We’re clearly challenging one of the laws that exists.” “But we’ve never had any violence at the Pride march,” he added.
This year proved to be no exception. A week later, on the day of the march, all permits were in place and no counter-protests were to be seen. But though the numbers were noticeably larger than at last year’s, and though the attendees were bedecked in a cornucopia of rainbows and gender-subverting attire, the mood seemed more reminiscent of a protest than of a celebration. As the parade wove its way down the government-approved route between Barakhamba Road and Jantar Mantar, the chants, a mix of Hindi and English, sounded intermittent and often half-hearted.
India’s queer community, it seemed to me, was holding its breath and waiting.