Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has asked the Kerala Chief Minister to decriminalise Section 377 of the IPC. Even before Tharoor’s request to Pinarayi Vijayan though, Kerala’s Law Secretary B G Harindranath said that a Bill to amend Section 377 would be introduced in the state’s assembly.
This is not surprising, since Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is the first sitting Chief Minister in India to mention the term LGBTQ in an official statement.
Not only did he mention the term, the statement, issued in August 2016, is the first in India from a sitting Chief Minister to talk about LGBTQ in the context of rights. It was a response to justice Markandey Katju on his (as usual) uninformed rants.
If an MLA, MP or a politician or a celebrity had issued such a statement from Mumbai or Delhi, it would have made the LGBTQ 'friendly' media go into a frenzy! For the ‘national’ media, it is only Mumbai and Delhi where being queer is ‘accepted’. This is not something peculiar to the LGBTQ community. This is how our country and the media work. And the larger politics manifests itself in every other aspect of the country.
But in Kerala, the presence or lack of media coverage for the progress they’re steadily making doesn’t seem to matter.
In Kerala, unlike my state Tamil Nadu, the political class seems committed to bringing in change without much fanfare.
The broken promises in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the few states where the LGBTQ community has demanded that the government amend Section 377 of IPC, a subject that falls in the concurrent list of the Constitution. This demand has gone into the press release of every Pride parade and major protest since the 2013 Supreme Court verdict.
Superficial as it is, we have believed that the possibility for such an amendment in Tamil Nadu is higher. The only ‘evidence’ that we have to back up our claim is the amendment of the Hindu Marriage Act in 1967, where the then DMK government – under the Chief Ministership of Anna – made self-respect marriage legal in the state.
But the truth is that while we may have the same Dravidian political parties in Tamil Nadu today, they aren’t anywhere closer to what they were in the 1970s, let alone following the rationales of Periyar.
The only piece of law that Tamil Nadu has focussed on amending in recent times, to my knowledge, is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA) to allow Jallikattu.
Expecting something from the current AIADMK government though is pointless. This is the government that put the Transgender Welfare board to sleep because it was established by DMK government.
The Transgender Welfare board was started in April 2008 after the intervention of DMK MP Kanimozhi.
In 2009, as the LGBTQ community was planning its first Pride Parade in Chennai, the police was reluctant to grant permission. The permission was finally granted - but only after the police was told that the parade was being held to thank Ms Kanimozhi for helping start the Transgender welfare board in the state.
There was even a banner in the Pride Parade thanking Ms Kanimozhi - which was rolled away halfway through the march.
The failure of Tamil Nadu’s political class
But even if DMK was in power now, it would be ambitious to expect them to talk about LGBTQ issues.
Even the ever righteous and active social media personalities of DMK, who talk about social change, somehow are at a loss for words when it comes to LGBTQ rights. We still don't know what the DMK’s official stand is on the issue.
To be fair to DMK, the Delhi High Court verdict came out in 2009. AIADMK came to power in the year 2011 and subsequently in 2016. Logically, the criticism must rest with the AIADMK for not responding to the demands of the community as a ruling party.
In fact, the AIADMK government even amended the ‘Goondas Act’ in August 2014 to include offences committed under Section 377.
But as the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu, the DMK has remained silent on Section 377 and LGBTQ rights in the state.
As I say this, I am not forgetting MP Tiruchi Siva's groundbreaking Transgender Rights Bill. And this is where the LGB community must realise and learn from the Transgender community in political lobbying.
And considering that the DMK Chief doesn’t shy away from asserting his Left leaning, perhaps we can be naive to still believe that the LGBTQ community in Tamil Nadu may get support from the DMK.
The hypocrisy of central politics vs state politics
Section 377 does not criminalise homosexuality and is not limited to LGBTQ individuals. It talks about “…carnal intercourse against the order of nature…”, and doesn’t mention the gender of persons involved.
The demand to amend Section 377 is to merely decriminalise any and all sexual activity between consenting adults, irrespective of gender. Amending Section 377 would only be a symbolic step in recognising the rights of the LGBTQ community.
The Congress and the Left parties have extended their support to decriminalising Section 377 in India. Dr Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, tried to introduce two Private Member’s Bills in Lok Sabha to decriminalise homosexuality in India. Both times, the Bill failed.
Ironically, there is no effort to amend Section 377 in the six states (eight if Puducherry and Bihar are included) where Congress currently holds office.
It is only the Left government in Kerala that is preparing to decriminalise homosexuality in their state.
Once the state brings the amendment though, it needs the President’s approval. Whether the President - who must take the advice of the government at the Centre - will give his approval is another story altogether.
But coming back to Tamil Nadu, our demand to amend Section 377 in the state, now, for me, seems to be more of a ritual than an actual political demand.
The LGBTQ movement(?) that is hugely dominated by NGOs that sideline the critical voices from the community and outside still has a long way to go to assert itself politically, and to be true to its alignment to the Dravidian politics’ self-respect ideology.
Until then all I can do is to keenly watch and envy the progress next door.
Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.