In a much-anticipated decision, India’s Supreme Court overturned a colonial-era law that criminalised gay sex on Thursday. The country’s LGBT community has cheered the historic ruling, which asserts that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of rights. One of our Observers in India, who is gay, says this is a major victory – but that this doesn’t mean that all closeted people in India are going to come out just yet, himself included.

Until the court overturned the law, known as section 377, anal and oral intercourse were punishable by a 10-year jail term. This law was chiefly used against those in same-sex relationships. Human rights groups say police frequently used this statute to harass gay men and women.

Supreme Court judge Indu Malhotra said she believed “history owes an apology” to LGBT people.

LGBT rights activists in Chennai celebrate after the Supreme Court's ruling on September 6, 2018.

“The real struggle has only just begun”

Our Observer Swami, 26, lives in New Delhi. He is out to some of his closest friends, but not to his parents or siblings.

I switched on the TV early this morning to watch out for the verdict, though it only came in the late morning. I was feeling quite positive as I had been following the case passionately for a long time. As soon as I heard the verdict, I had tears in my eyes. I felt like now, nobody can treat me as a second-class citizen – if I come out to them, nobody can report me to the police. And LGBT people who are victims of violence will be able to seek justice, at the very least on paper.

I’m hopeful, but of course, the real struggle has only just begun. We’ve got legal recognition, but there’s still a long way to social acceptance. Politicians and influential religious gurus may or may not support this verdict, and that will make a huge difference. And we have to remember that only homosexuality has been decriminalised – we’re still going to have to fight for the right to marriage and all the rights that go with that, like inheritance.

LGBT rights activists celebrate in Bangalore on September 6, 2018. 
 

I knew I was into guys since puberty, but it took me years to finally accept it and come out to some of my friends. I only came out to my best friend a couple of years ago, and then some other close friends, close colleagues and a few close cousins. These were all people I trusted, and they were all very supportive.

I’m currently between jobs, but the company I used to work for, like many corporate companies in India, had LGBT-friendly policies. Nevertheless, homophobic jokes were still common in the office. People used the Hindi curse ‘gandu’, which translates to ‘faggot’ in English, to belittle each other. So I didn't feel comfortable being out at work.

“I’ll have to wait and see how things evolve in India”

I also don’t plan on coming out to my family just yet. In India, most families aren’t accepting of children with alternative sexualities; I have many gay friends, but only two of them are out to their families. For me, it’s complicated, because my father and grandfather are public figures in my hometown, and if I were out, it could cause them embarrassment. Though it kills me not to let my family know about a part of my identity, I don’t want to cause too much trouble in their lives. I also worry they might reject me.

My grandfather is quite liberal in many respects, but this morning, when the news channels were flooded with the verdict, he just told me to change the channel. These topics make people uncomfortable, so they react with silence and ignorance. He’s previously told me that he believed legalizing homosexuality would corrode society. But I explained that this intolerance was not intrinsically part of Indian culture, and that criminalisation of homosexuality was actually imposed by British rule, which he was surprised to find out. 

I do plan on coming out to my little sister soon. I’ve been planning this for a while, so I’ve been keeping her updated on the hearings in this case to sensitise her about the issue.

I want to come out to my whole family one day, but not yet, and I honestly don’t know when. I’ll have to wait and see how things evolve in India. But it’s important for me to do this so that I can do my bit for the LGBT community, without any fear; so far, I’ve only been active online, with petitioning and advocacy. I also don’t want to hide my relationships from my family. I’m talking to someone now, but he lives hundreds of miles away. With sexuality being such a taboo subject in India, dating is hard even for straight people, so, imagine for gay people!


>>READ MORE ON THE OBSERVERS: Young couple in India stream “moral policing” incident on Facebook Live