In 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a vaguely worded law that criminalises consensual acts between adults in private. This was largely interpreted to be disproportionately against the queer community, and millions of LGBTQ Indians all over the country rejoiced that such a law had been done away with.
However, in December 2013, the Indian Supreme Court overturned the Delhi High Court’s judgment, and effectively paved the way for the criminalisation of not only consensual homosexual sex, but also any consensual sexual act between any two adults that is not procreative in nature. LGBTQ Indians and their allies stormed the streets immediately, observing a ‘Global Day of Rage’ against the judgment.
Mobilising against Section 377
Within 3 hours of the verdict, Jhatkaa launched a petition supporting LGBTQ rights. Within the first week, Jhatkaa had mobilised 15,000 people to ask the government to take action against the Supreme Court’s verdict. In that week, dozens of celebrities and public figures had spoken out against the verdict. Jhatkaa then reached out to 170,000 people via Facebook by enabling Facebook advertisements, and got a 2% click-through on this issue.
In the same month, Jhatkaa met with Kapil Sibal, then Minister of Law, and encouraged the government to take action against the Supreme Court’s verdict. Minister Sibal responded, “We will continue to fight for gay rights and ensure that you’re not discriminated against.”
On December 20th, the government submitted a review petition to the Supreme Court. The NAZ Foundation (the original petitioner) also submitted a review petition a few days later, explaining the 21 legal discrepancies and loopholes that exist in the Supreme Court’s verdict.
On January 28th, these were rejected by the Supreme Court of India.
On March 31, Voices against 377, an LGBTQ coalition supporting NAZ, submitted a curative petition calling for the case to be reopened. On April 22, the Supreme Court accepted this curative petition and committed to a day of open hearing. However, no specific date has as yet been committed.
Meanwhile, Jhatkaa was continuing to engage citizens on the issue via mobiles and email, and by end June 2014, had reached 235,000 people via Facebook, and collected 26,000 petition signatures. Jhatkaa also worked with a coalition of LGBTQ groups to organise a rally on the 5 year anniversary of the 2009 Delhi High Court verdict.
Jhatkaa organised an action to fill up the court room on the first day of the hearing for the curative petition. Jhatkaa built up a small team of volunteers in Delhi to help execute this.
In July 2014, the new Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, responded to a journalist’s question on LGBTQ rights: “Everyone has equal rights including gays.” Following this statement, Jhatkaa arranged a meeting the Minister, to hold him accountable to his promise. Jhatkaa submitted an official request to the Health Ministry to maintain the supportive position on LGBT rights from the previous Ministry of Health and Family Affairs’ during the curative petition proceedings. Harsh Vardhan agreed to do so as long as he remained the Minister of Health.
Jhatkaa continued to build up petition signatures to approximately 42,000 people and extended Facebook reach to 285,000 timelines by the end of 2014, responding to moments when key leaders spoke up for LGBTQ rights, or when there were key moments of discrimination.
Examples of this include calling on Shaina NC, BJP Spokesperson & National Executive Member, to get the government to file an affidavit to decriminalise homosexuality following her comment “We are for decriminalising homosexuality. That is the progressive way forward.” Jhatkaa also took action when Ramesh Tawadkar, Goa’s Sports and Youth Affairs Minister talked about his desire to create “gay cure clinics”, a statement that was subsequently retracted by the Chief Minister of Goa.
The curative petition has not yet been heard, and as those familiar with the Indian legal system will know, this may take years. Prominent LGBTQ activists and groups working together as a loose coalition, of which Jhatkaa is a part, have taken a strategic decision to hold off public pressure.
This is because the majority of the judges on the Supreme Court bench who have ascended after the last Chief Justice retired in September 2014, are conservative. The groups are waiting for the next time the composition of this bench changes, due to happen when the next Chief Justice retires. When the curative petition is heard, the alliance will also organise a rapid response rally.