The Delhi High Court's ruling decriminalising gay sex was a big step forward for the gay community. Although there is still no social acceptance on this issue, the fact remains that gays are no longer criminals under the law.
Manohar Elavarthi, who runs several NGOs in Bengaluru, has been very vocal on this issue and has been fighting for gay rights for the past ten years. "They ought be treated as human beings and the judgment has decriminalised them," he says. In this interview with rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa, Manohar explains how the scenario has changed following the verdict and what more needs to be done.
Tell me how things have changed since the verdict of the Delhi High Court?
It is a major step forward.
But the law is only part of it. What about societal aspect of this issue?
Yes I agree that the law is only one part of it. Now it is a question of social tolerance. Just because the law has changed it does not mean that the attitude of the people will change. However, I must add that the court verdict has opened things up for all of us. I only hope that the Supreme Court upholds the verdict.
If the Supreme Court upholds the verdict does that mean that you have won your battle? Or are they any more demands? You must also remember that the courts cannot do anything about social acceptance.
What we want is a complete repeal of the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The IPC is guided by a feudal set up and it has not changed with the times. About social acceptance, we need to work towards it.
Repealing Section 377 could lead to more trouble. It also deals with child abuse and other crimes.
I still say that we need to repeal Section 377. However along with this we need to ensure that laws regarding sexual abuse, be it male or female or children related laws need to be strengthened.
Ours is a country very strongly influenced by religion. Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious leaders have opposed legalising gay sex. What are your thoughts about it?
In Hinduism there is nothing to show that it is anti-homosexuality. There are instances to show that some of the Gods have undergone a sex change. I don't understand how (yoga guru) Baba Ramdev and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are opposing this. Where Christianity is concerned, the community is divided in its opinion. There are gay churches and the Vatican too says that gays should not be criminalised. Speaking of Islam, there are few who claim that the Quran says that it is anti homosexuality. Shariat law speaks of punishment for men indulging in homosexuality. However we don't have this law in India and the laws in India does not speak of any punishment.
Does that mean that the next demand would be for legalising gay marriages?
There is a lot more work to be done before we start demanding that gay marriages be legalised. As I said earlier, peoples' opinion does not change just because the law has changed. The law in India is absurd. If a male living with his partner nominates him in the will, the relatives can challenge it.
The gay community has been dubbed as a nuisance by many. Would it not help your cause, if they were more discreet?
Let me speak of Bengaluru which has the largest number of gays from the lower strata of society. Other places like Mumbai have gays who belong to the upper strata of society who have a social acceptance. When one is from the lower strata they cannot afford their own private space and hence meet up in parks or public areas. If society accepts them,
then this problem would vanish. Keeping this in mind, I started an NGO called The Sangama where these persons can get shelter and meet their lovers.
Everyone speaks only about gays. What about lesbians. Is there any work being done on that.
Being a lesbian has a double stigma. The Sangama in the past ten years has catered to 5,000 men but only about 100 lesbians. We are working hard towards their cause and want to ensure that they too have social acceptance.
Has the attitude of the police changed after this judgment?
Not really. They continue to book cases. Since they cannot invoke Section 377, they book gays under sections which deal with public nuisance. As I said earlier there is a long way to go before the mind set changes.