NEW DELHI — Indian activists are listening closely as the U.S. Supreme Court debates the issue of same sex marriage. Activists are assessing progress made on the issue of gay rights in India, nearly four years after a Indian key court ruling that decriminalized homosexual sex.
As a gay man in India, life has not been easy for Kiran. He left his home in the Andaman Islands and came to New Delhi two years ago, after years of ridicule from teachers, students and members of his own family.
The discrimination and feeling of being an outcast was not limited to his personal life. “When my employer found out that I am homosexual, they fired me from my job - saying you look and act gay and we can’t keep you here,” Kiran said.
Kiran found work, hope and support at the Naz Foundation, a non-governmental organization working with people who have HIV and AIDS.
Anjali Gopalan founded the group in 1994 to work with men whom she says had no gay identity and were getting married to women to conform to societal norms.
“To me, it became very clear the impact on the lives of women and children. It took on a great urgency. I believe people who don’t value themselves will not protect themselves from HIV,” Gopalan said.
She decided to focus her efforts on repealing the law criminalizing homosexual sex after speaking with a 20-year old who underwent shock therapy at a major Delhi hospital in order to “become straight.”
The nearly decade-long effort paid off with the Delhi High Court declaring the law unconstitutional in 2009. Gopalan says the ruling has tremendous impact.
“No longer could we as a culture, sweep homosexuality under the carpet by saying ‘oh, it’s a Western phenomenon, it doesn’t impact us, it doesn’t exist in India and the little bit that exists is because of the West, it’s not an Indian thing,” Gopalan said.
Lawyer and gay rights activist Aditya Bondyopadhyay agrees. He says the ruling means police are less likely to harass gay men in public parks -- but more importantly - that homosexuals are less afraid of coming out.
“What has happened since the judgment is that enormous, exuberant force of people have become unleashed, it’s like the genie getting out of the bottle and can not be put back again. People have certainly tasted that liberty, so you have film festivals, even small towns that never dreamt of having gay pride parades are having them,” Bondyopadhyay said.
Still, gay rights activists say the fight is far from over.
Conservative groups are challenging the ruling that decriminalized homosexual sex in the Indian Supreme Court. Until that issue is settled, activists say they cannot press for same-sex marriage and other rights.