Sunday, September 13, 2015

333 under 377

About a month ago, India's crime records bureau released stats for 2014 (very efficient, considering the year had ended only some six months ago). The stats made news this time because, among other things, the numbers for Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code were tabulated and released for the first time  -- we don't know what was behind this - was the bureau driven by a desire simply to deter crime or to highlight how India still discriminates against gay people.

Maybe it was just part of the new efficiency under a tough taskmaster who is scaring the bureaucracy into doing some work for a change. (Stats on environment-related crime were also released for the first time, so I am ruling out any motivation to support equal rights for gay men). In fact, the Deccan Herald noted a new keenness to prosecute LGBT individuals, but gave no basis for that claim - maybe that was just the handiwork of an enthusiastic reporter or sub.

The media reports of these numbers agitated the people who are against Section 377, especially LGBT activists. Not! That non-reaction was understandable at the time, as most people, relying on anecdotal evidence, may have assumed that almost all of these cases were filed against men abusing children rather than adults in a consensual relationship.

Now a Hindustan Times reporter has apparently done some digging around and broken down the numbers some more for us. It seems one-third of the total 1,148 cases of Section 377, that is 383 cases were not of child abuse. My gratitude to the reporter and HT for this detail, although some of the statements and conclusions in the same report are maddening.

The same report implies that trial courts acquitted the accused in 50 of these 383 cases while the rest of the cases are still pending in courts across the country. If activists in the metros and Tier-2 cities are unaware of these 383 cases, this could mean that gay men in relatively remote places away from the attention and capabilities of activists, the media and organisations like Lawyers' Collective are being prosecuted.

This story will be repeated this year and year after year, and these men will remain just statistics in a government bureau's report and, at best, mentions in news reports and blog posts like this one. A lot of people still live with the fond hope that the Supreme Court will reverse the judgement of its own two-bench court in favour of that by the lower-rung Delhi High Court, so that we will be free of Section 377 and start the long march towards equality for LGBT people backed by the law. But even if that miracle does happen, it looks like the SC will continue to take its own sweet time to hear the curative petition against the injustice of its two-member bench in a process as transparent as vantablack -- even lawyers don't seem to know how it prioritises its work and when it will deign to consider the petition.

That's very convenient for the legislators we elect as they can always hide behind the legal system and refuse to evolve from politicians into lawmakers who also remove obsolete laws. They will come to our community events, even invite us to their events, indulge in some rhetoric to raise our hopes, pose for pictures with some vain LGBT people, and fail to deliver. The voices of exceptions like Tathagata Satpathy will be drowned out in the din of the empty vessels in Parliament.

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