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'SC has banged the door on face of LGBTQ community'

October 18, 2023 09:04 IST
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'The State does not accept our rights, what more can I say about this judgment?'

IMAGE: Members of the LGBTQ+ community take part in a gay pride march, Mumbai, June 24, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Ashok Row Kavi, inarguably India's best known campaigner for LGBTQ issues, has been raising issues of discrimination against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community for more than 40 years.

Mr Row Kavi, 76, was expecting a positive judgment from the Supreme Court of India on same-sex marriages in India on Tuesday, but the apex court instead put the ball in the government's court, hugely disappointing the LGBTQ community.

Of which Mr Row Kavi says, "Nothing has been given to us. Neither recognition of civil union nor legally recognising the relation.

Speaking to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/, Mr Row Kavi elaborates on why the verdict came as a letdown.

The Supreme Court has put the ball in Parliament's court, how do you feel about it?

It is abdication of its responsibility to the LGBTQ community.

The LGBTQ community has not even got the right to civil union.

They have said you can do whatever you want, like live together and have joint bank account, but they did not feel fit to recognise our rights.

Living together hardly matters because we have no rights. I (as a man) can live with my boyfriend but he will have no rights in this (relationship). He has to have rights if he is in a relationship.

You wanted the same rights for your boyfriend that any Indian woman gets on marrying an Indian man?

Absolutely, because there are lots of things in a civil union, for example things like adopting a child. We got nothing out of this judgment.

They are saying the Union Cabinet secretary will look into it and a special committee will be formed.

And now (the Supreme Court is expecting) the Executive should look into this matter and tweak the law.

But how can Supreme Court make a law? Isn't that Parliament's job?

I had the feeling that they will not make a law, but they would be able to fool around with the Special Marriages Act. They did not do that too.

I have known you for 30 years and since then I know that you exist as you exist. What can one do about your feelings and rights, then? It is natural. Did the Supreme Court miss this point?

Exactly, that is my point.

Justice S Ravindra Bhat very cleverly says in his judgment we recognise your right to live with dignity under Article 15 and 19 -- but we do not need to recognise those rights. You accept it because you have them.

But what does it mean? The State does not accept our rights, what more can I say about this judgment?

The whole bench together has pushed things to the executive by saying set up a committee and aisa waisa (this and that) whatever.

Now, they will decide what the new law will be.

But the judges did speak about the right to privacy for LGBTQ in strong words in its judgment, isn't it?

We have been talking this earlier too, but beyond this what? Nothing has been given to the LGBTQ in this judgment.

I doubt whether there will be a right to a joint bank account also.

The only thing the judgment says for the LGBTQ is that they have right to come into your joint family. Big deal, yaar.

It has given us a bouquet of flowers, but we cannot take each individual flower out of it.

It is like the Supreme Court of India told us that we know what your rights are, but the State does not need to respond to you.

I was very positive before the judgment as I felt we would get our foot in the door, but that too has not happened.

The Supreme Court has banged the door on the face of the LGBTQ community.

We have reached a stage that this is becoming national news, as against a time when LGBTQ issues were spoken of with contempt 30 years ago. Now the biggest relief for the LGBTQ community remains that Section 377 has been decriminalised.

They decriminalised it after 30 years and I have grown old by this time. Is this what you call justice? All the young gay couples were thinking they will get the right to marry, but they got nothing out of this judgment.

The Supreme Court stated that LGBTQ is not an elite or urban concept but prevails everywhere. They recognised this fact.

If you read Ruth Vanita's famous book Love's Rite: Same Sex Marriage in India, she has given a whole annexure in her book about lesbian marriages in small villages, towns and cities of India. Therefore, don't tell us, Oh, we recognise you.

We wanted our rights and we did not get it. We were expecting that the right to sign in a hospital as relative for the gay partner would be given in this judgment, but that too has not been given to us.

Was there no single silver lining in this judgment?

No, there was not a single silver lining in the judgment as they did not even say 'yes' to adoption. I am very sorry to say this.

What about political parties? How many of them support you? Moreover, will now this be pushed to next year and the matter will be decided by the newly elected Parliament in 2024?

The very fact that they pushed the matter to the Cabinet secretary shows that they have done exactly the same thing what they did with police reforms.

There was a special Parliament committee which said each state needs to do certain things about police reform, but in conclusion not a single state has done any police reform.

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