Saptarshi Mitra and Adil Shahzad have a love story that is special, as all love stories are. But the couple had to beat the odds that Indian society fabricates - homophobia. We spoke to Saptarshi and Adil and asked them what it is like to live as a gay couple in India and if the desi mentality has indeed undergone a switch.
What are the developments of homosexual laws in India?
Up until 2018, homosexuality was a crime in Indian law. On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the application of Section 377 to consensual homosexual sex between adults was unconstitutional. With this landmark judgment that was passed by the Apex Court, the rights of the LGBTQ community were recognized and gay consensual sex was no longer a crime. The Court did pass the order, but did society change its perspective?
Cut to 2021, when the Madras High Court was faced with the case of a same-sex couple seeking protection from the Court. The lawyer of the couple has urged the Court to issue guidelines in order to ensure protection “so that persons involved in same-sex relationships are treated with dignity and their safety is also ensured”. Justice Venkatesh who was hearing the case at the time said that he wanted to give himself “some more time to churn” and added “ultimately in this case, the words must come from my heart and not from my head, and the same will not be possible if I am not fully ‘woke’ on this aspect.” He further said he would need a psycho-education for the same.
Is gay marriage legal in India?
A prevalent doubt that many have expressed time and again. The answer is no same sex marriage is not legal in India. Though the ruling has decriminalized Section 377, thus allowing homosexuals to lead a dignified life and have the basic right to companionship, the ruling does not allow same-sex marriage.
Saptarshi and Adil got engaged a year after they had met at the Pride Bangalore. “I spotted him and super liked him (definite lust at first sight). He was attending the pride parade with his friend whom I knew. He helped us exchange numbers and then we kept meeting and realized we liked being with each other,” says Saptarshi.
The couple then moved in together and have been living in the metro city.
Did the decriminalization of Section 377 make the situation easier?
Saptarshi says there shouldn’t have been such an Article or Section in the first place to begin with! “The article being removed is not an achievement. It's just removing something that was unsound anyway.”
However, answering the question of whether the decriminalization of the section made things easier, the couple says they do not feel any change. “The article was not something we dealt with daily. Rather, it is the society and the people, and there is barely any change there.”
In an article by the BBC, following the decision by the Supreme Court, noted historian Harbans Mukhia says one has to know India's history to understand why the British made gay sex illegal. "The British brought their own rules to India, including the Section 377 which banned homosexuality and made it a criminal act. This law was enforced by them but it didn't conform with India's attitude toward homosexuality. It was more to do with their Christian belief systems. The Court decision has taken India back to its roots," he says.
Other experts are of the view that India’s culture and mythology pointed to a more open attitude towards homosexuality. Historian Rana Safvi says "love was celebrated in India in every form".
How easy is it to be a gay couple living in India?
“Nowhere close to easy,” said the couple. However, reiterating that Bangalore is much receptive and aware than the smaller towns and thus, it is something to be grateful for.
Speaking about the task it is to navigate through the homophobic society, they say “there are numerous challenges which we face because to many it (a gay couple in India) is still an alien concept or they would like to behave so.”
Saptarshi thinks the mentality of people and society needs a great deal of improvement. “In smaller towns, it's not a subject that's discussed ever. It’s as if we don't exist. We are at least 100 years behind to accept the community fully. The change has to begin at a grassroots level and here I mean changes in the education system.”
Why is India so homophobic?
You may have heard the dreaded and shocking ‘conversion therapy’ that is very prominent in the country. The belief that ‘gayness’ can be forced out of someone in order to get them to ‘un-become’ what they essentially are, is where the problem lies. Being gay is hardly seen as something natural or innate, but rather something to be ‘recovered’ from.
Experts say that what India needs is a cleansing of the mentality. No rulings or orders can bring that about. Shock and outrage have been expressed time and again at the irrational and ludicrous ways of making someone reverse the gay in them. Amongst these therapies are antipsychotic medicines, baba’s spells, ashram sessions, yoga (!!!), and cosmic incantations in some cases.
The fight to get these behaviours out of India’s system is still on.
Saptarshi and Adil recount a particular incident when they were appalled by the homophobia. “Very recently while clicking pictures in the Taj Mahal, we were asked to leave by the security guard. Though he did not specifically state his reason, it was clear. We did not argue because I respect his position as a guard but I hope he got a message that we exist. The instances are endless. Life is not easy being an out and proud gay couple in India.”
Can we change when it comes to being more receptive, India?
There is a slow change creeping in into Indian society, albeit in the metro cities and not yet in smaller towns and villages. But there is starting to be a recognition of sorts, of people from the LGBTQ community.
Multinationals have begun extending support and acknowledging people from the LGBTQ group. Corporate programs have been started, workplace policies are being instated, medical insurance is being given, workplace equality is being promoted, and the media is really making some much-needed noise about the LGBTQ community. This has changed the game.
However, there is a lot to be done before homosexuals can say they feel at ease. “It is still a shame for most to be gay, and that's because this is what our culture and tradition and education have taught us. It will take time to go away,” feels the couple.
But they stand their ground. “We lived as a gay couple back then when everyone looked at the subject with coloured glasses, and we stood strong. We still do the same, and we will because we don't see anything wrong in what we are living for!”