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Why I Feel For B.P. Singhal

July 11, 2009

In the aftermath of the Delhi High Court judgement reading down Section 377, the initial euphoria and celebration is now being increasingly met with an equally strong backlash. Some of this has of course come from the religious right of all denominations (Hindu,Muslim, Sikh, Isayi Apas mein sab bhai bhai), the army, politicians, conservative commentators in the press. Underlying much of the oppositions seems to be a sense that somehow the decriminalization of homosexuality is going to turn everyone gay, a sentiment that sounds bizarre to us.

But now that I have been thinking about this I think I am beginning to understand the fear that is articulated in this “homosexuality-as-contagious-virus” position. Because in one sense they are right. In his post Lawrence speaks of the radical politics of impossibility – the change in the law suddenly makes possible a new set of imaginary possibilities that we could not dream of hitherto. And so BP Singhal and Dominic Emmanuel and everyone else who is saying that the presence of the law performs a stellar function against the rise of a virtual army of gay people and must remain on the books, even if, and indeed especially because, it is never used against actual real gay people, have a point.

For the reading down of Section 377 seems to have opened a pandora’s box. And the impact of the change extends far beyond what the law permits or even envisions. The liberatory promise which is the kernel of the High Court judgement is thus being cited for situations on which the law at the moment has nothing to say. The day after the Delhi High Court jugment three couples decided to get married in Chandigarh. They knew the law did not permit same-sex marriage, but the point is not what the law specefically permits or debars. The point is what horizon of possibility the change in the law conjours. And this explains the unease the judgement incites. By locating sexuality within the sphere of the constutional rights to life, dignity, equality and non-discrimination, the court has effectively said queer people are citizens just like everyone else. Which also means then, that this jugment is about all of us, not just about the queers. And if it is about all of us, what then does it say about marriage, love, desire, prejudice? By holding same-sex desire equally worthy of constitutional protection, the judgment reshapes the universal through the particularity of  judicial precedent. Now what?

If we are citizens, just like you, might we conceivably begin to ask for all the things you have taken for granted all this while? We might say we want to be able to get married. We might say we wish to to adopt children. We might say we wish to enter the armed forces (for queer people can be patriots too, though of course we stay away from those queers on kafila ;) We might say our partners count as kin as far property goes. And since the judgement applies also to horizontal equality, we will demand that our workplaces treat us equally and on par with our straight colleagues.

There is a reason why feminists have always insisted that the personal is political. The High Court does not actually locate the judgment within the sphere of privacy at all. The judgement does not simply say “What occurs between two consenting adults in the privacy of their bedrooms is no buissness of the state,” rather the judment explicitly locates the rights of sexual minorities within the ambit of the right to life and equality. This is not only a negative judgment proscribing the state from entering certain spheres of individual activity, rather, it is a positive judgments which upholds the rights of individuals based on the constitutional rights all of us have as citizens of this country.

Which is why those opposing the judgment are so little convinced by the argument, “but if it is between two people, in their bedrooms, how does it bother you?” Perhaps they have understood the import of this judgment, its power, better than we have.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anant M permalink
    July 12, 2009 5:55 AM

    >Perhaps they have understood the import of this >judgment, its power, better than we have.

    The first comment I have seen in a long long time that treats the adversary with the respect that he deserves. And this is a great intervention because it demonstrates how treating the adversary with respect can actually give insights into your own potentials (and the potholes ahead as well). Wish there was more of this spirit in discussions of brahmanism, Hindutva and capitalism as well.

    Incidentally, India is not unique in this – keeping the law on the books but securing an assurance from the court that it will not be used is exactly the route that Singapore has taken – although being more conscious of the global image, the Singapore government says something like: there can conceivably be a time when it can be repealed, but for now, we are a conservative society and we have to respect that fact by symbolical restraints. They tinker with details of which particular kind of act in what particular context is acceptable and which is not…etc.

  2. Aarti Sethi permalink*
    July 12, 2009 4:35 PM

    thanks for the comment anant. Just to clarify, I do not have any sympathy at all with singhals position, my intervention in that sense is very much for ” our side” , a sort of warning if you will so we can equip ourselves in the days to come. That the judgement fudamentally and uncomfortably alters the long held presumptions to priveledged citizenship by the likes of singhals I welcome whole heartedly. I hope it makes them more and more uneasy as the days go by.

  3. Anant M permalink
    July 12, 2009 6:58 PM

    Yes, Aarti. Sympathy is different from respect. What I read in that post is something along these lines:

    Genuine refutation must penetrate the power of the opponent and meet him [sic] on the ground of his strength; the case is not won by attacking
    him somewhere else and defeating him where he is not (Adorno 1982: 5).

    Adorno, T. W. 1982. Against Epistemology. Oxford: Blackwell.

    To that, I would also add that – effective refutation takes fully into account, the opponent’s image of the self – something that is very easy to overlook when we persuade ourselves that the opponent is ‘bizarre’ or ‘already known’ to us.

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