For my fellow comrades, friends, lovers, sisters and brothers (a not so open letter)
It was biting cold in New Delhi in December last year. But this did not stop me or hundreds of other people, young and old alike, to hit the streets in protest. In protest against the brutal gangrape and the murder of Nirbhaya and the failure of the state in protecting its women. New Year's eve was not spent in partying with friends but in solidarity with comrades and protestors alike in reclaiming the streets back for us women. There was anger seething, there was reassurance in the solidarity we found in each other – strangers, friends, lovers, comrades. Many of us faced state repression.
Brutal lathi charge attacks, tear gas shells fired at us for peacefully demonstrating for what is our right – the right for us women to be ourselves. We protested for 'bekhaunf azaadi'. The freedom to be where we wanted to be, the freedom to wear what we wanted, the freedom to eat/drink whatever we wanted and yes the freedom to our bodies. New Delhi, the seat of power in a horribly patriarchal state, erupted in a mass mobilization over women's rights. We received a shot in the arm from the Justice Verma Commission report which redefined the terminology of rape. There were straight men and women, gay men and women, transgenders and everyone else from the social spectrum demanding gender justice and protection of women in the streets of this country.
Today one year down the line everything seems to be a travesty of the movement. The Supreme Court ruling on Section 377 has made redundant the very term over which the people erupted in protest – the right to one's own body. Love and sexuality has come to be colonized and criminalized in this basic setback to human rights. How can I as a woman or a man demand protection from the state as my basic fundamental right to exist as its citizen? How can I now stand up to regressive patriarchal institutions, starting with the Khap panchayats all the way up to the SC, to give me my rights because I am a minority?
Protests against Sec. 377
I have been a minority all my life in the eyes of the hegemony. Being a woman, a Muslim and the North Eastern Other, there is no way I have seen myself as moving away from the periphery. And there are thousands and lakhs like me in this huge demography – each belonging to their own 'minuscule' population. The SC writes to the effect that because homosexuals form a 'minuscule' population Sec. 377 should not be removed!!! Tomorrow if a fascist govt. comes to power (and which scarily looks like it will) they'll demand the removal of protection from any religious/caste/class etc minority because they are a minuscule populace?
This is dangerous. It is not just sexuality but basic human rights that are at stake. It makes me cower in fear about what other types of repression people will have to face in the coming times. Sexual assaulters across the spectrum (read Tarun Tejpal, Asaram Bapu etc) are in the docks because of the developments that happened after the protests in December 2012. The expansion of the narrow definition of rape and sexual harassment has led to the persecution of such violators. This judgment is nothing short of the infamous ADM Jabalpur judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in 1976 where it upheld detention without trial during the Emergency period. This judgment infringed on the basic fundamental right to life guaranteed by the Article 21 and anyone who approached the court was termed as threats to the Indian state.
Today the basic identity of a human is at stake because he/she may not be heteronormative. He may prefer another he or she may prefer another she and they are criminals in the eyes of the law. They have been exposed to threats, persecution, blackmail, repression because they are the way they are. Bigots like Ramdev and maulanas have come together in a surreal way of unity proclaiming homosexuality is a disease!!!
It is time for us to revamp what organized religion ought to be like if we are believers. The times are fraught with anxiety and fear. And without sounding rhetorical, I just want to assure you that I am with you my beautiful LGBTQ friends. I am small but if all of us small resisting individuals come together, we can resist the draconian state. And we will. Each individual act of resistance leads to the final rebellion. We shall protest and rejoice in being who we are, on what we choose, what we wear, who we are with, where we go. This is the time to make the difference, and let us.
Shaheen is an M.Phil 1st Year student at the School of Arts and Aesthetics in JNU, New Delhi and is also an arts practitioner.