14th August, 1947. The end of the day approaches. Clocks freeze at 11:11 and time stretches to make space for the generational suffering that hangs in the shadows of this dingy New Delhi parliament house.
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny…”1
I was sixteen and at summer camp when I first met a girl that I wanted to be with. Not as friends, but in that classic Gay soft sapphic Lana Del Rey kind of way. It was scary to think that I might be. You know. Not straight rolls off the tongue quicker than gay or bisexual or.
I once asked my parents what the word ‘lesbian’ meant. They responded in kind.
“Where did you hear That Word?”
Some time between 900 and 1300 AD is their best guess for when the Khajuraho temples of India were built. Tall stone facades depict homosexual acts that only the BBC will ever summarise as “a wide variety of people getting lucky, in every possible combination.”
I was shocked when I first heard this. Not just the way the BBC2 paraphrased it, but the content itself. Resistance to homosexuality in the West has its roots in tradition, and I assumed the same was true for my people. But the more I read about our history, the more progressive our origin story seems.
It’s still 11:11 and Nehru Ji, soon to be the first Prime Minister of independent India, continues:
“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
In the Indo-Pak war that will take place in October of ‘47, and then in ‘65, 18 years from this date. When our country comes of age, will utterance be enough to protect us from ourselves? From each other?
Luckily, history makes it easy to acquit ourselves of blame. The real reason the country that invented the Kama Sutra itself sent people to prison for 69ing and blowjobs for a large part of its independent history was Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. First imposed by the British in 1861, this piece of legislature criminalised all forms of intercourse “against the order of nature.”3 They weren’t being particularly creative. The law was modelled after the Buggery Act of Britain, and in accordance with international norms for sexual suppression at the time. Only, the British moved on. From homophobia and from our country.
In August of ‘47, they left but Section 377 stayed.
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to light and freedom.”
In 2009, the Supreme Court overturned 377 for the first time. That year marked the inauguration of a host of since regular pride parades, as whole sections of society sidelined for generations were given the green light to openly and freely practice love.
And my breath hitched but I did it. I shoved the words off my tongue for the very first time. “I like girls,” whispered in a voice-note Whatsapp-ed to my bestest friend. My country, my tribe and myself, we each found our declarations of Independence, through objections in court and on foot, in words spoken and swiped, over wine and under duress.
But two months later I’m in a polyamorous relationship with internalized homophobia, myself, and a girl 2200 kilometres away.
In 2013 a local High Court recriminalised Gay.
In 2018 they took 377 down again, so eventually things turned out okay, but this is to say
It’s my first week at college and my bestest friend is too many time zones away when the girls in my quad start to venture out into the world of boy-talk. They’re not at all homophobic, but that’s almost worse. I am so used to shoving, I don’t know how to casually bring up this cute girl I saw at the NSO bonfire the other day.
Perhaps my skepticism of collective liberation is misinformed. I judge in the context of what further freedom is viable, forgetting I have inherited a liberty that is already the culmination of years of reaching for further freedom. Of years of sacrifice. Death. Hope. All kinds of things coming full circle.
In an interview with the CNN4, the two female lawyers that led the second crusade against 377, Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, revealed that the verdict was not just a professional, but a personal victory. They were together. Had been. Hope to continue to be. In that classic Gay soft sapphic Lana Del Rey kind of way.
And incomplete as a turnover of the law may be — in making Gay more than an insult thrown around schoolyards, or in making Gay ‘appropriate’ enough for classrooms — two women were able to come out on national television without fear of being thrown into prison.
I am in a polyamorous relationship with coronavirus, myself, and a girl 5900 kilometres away. The girls in my quad are rooting for us, though the distance certainly doesn’t want to co-operate. I Whatsapp voice-noted my bestest friend that I wrote to my new girlfriend the other day,
“Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.”