When homosexuality was first decriminalized in India in 2009, Namrata Mukherjee didn’t understand the full ramifications of the Delhi High Court’s judgement declaring that discrimination on sexual orientation would be prohibited.

Then the judgement was overturned in 2013.

“It deeply impacted and upset me,” she says.

Since then, 25-year-old Mukherjee, a research fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy in New Delhi who identifies as queer, became a strong advocate against the law, which was enacted during British colonial rule in 1861.

Early Thursday, a five-member Supreme Court bench overturned the 2013 judgement, unanimously ending the country’s ban on gay sex.

Hours after the judgement was passed, celebrations continued across the capital city of Delhi and throughout the country.

Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman on the constitution bench, in a separate judgement, noted that an apology to the members of the LGBT community was in order.

“History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries,” she wrote.

A study by LGBTQ rights organization Humsafar Trust found that at least two in five LGBTQ persons in India have faced blackmail or know someone who has been a victim of blackmail since the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate homosexuality as a crime.

Mukherjee says the 2013 ruling was a catalyst in uniting the LGBTQ movement in India.

Indian members and supporters of the LGBT community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty)
Indian members and supporters of the LGBT community celebrate the Supreme Court decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty)

“It changed the social landscape of India. Suddenly, the queer community came together like it never had before,” she says. “We had the opportunity to share a cause and see it get bigger and hear diversity of voices and stories of struggle.”

Abhina Aher, a transgender activist from Delhi, agrees with Mukherjee.

“We were so disheartened. I remember people went into depression, some tried to commit suicide. But we also organized ourselves, we started talking about our rights, we strategized,” she says.

Their struggled paid off on Thursday.

“I feel empowered and dignified,” Aher says.

Still, the ruling is the first step in a much larger struggle: acceptance.

Hours after the Supreme Court struck down a ban on gay sex, celebrations continued across the capital city of Delhi and throughout the country. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty)
Hours after the Supreme Court struck down a ban on gay sex, celebrations continued across the capital city of Delhi and throughout the country. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty)

“Policies and judgement don’t change mindsets,” Aher says, adding that now was the time for LGBTQ community in India to “congregate and approach specific issues strategically” including those of marriage, adoption and employment as well as harassment and bullying.

Humsafar Trust found 52 independent instances were LGBTQ people faced harassment and discrimination in workplace and health care settings because of their identity. None of these individuals could seek legal recourse.

“This is exciting, because now it opens the opportunity to litigate for other issues like marriage equality,” Mukherjee says. “It’s not just about upper-caste, upper class gay men, it is also about lesbian women, it is about Dalit queer persons,” referring to the group marginalized by India’s caste system.

Despite the historic verdict, anti-LGBTQ sentiment continues to exist in India.

Homosexuality was first decriminalized in India in 2009, then the judgement was overturned in 2013. Thursday's Supreme Court decision overturned the 2013 judgement, unanimously ending the ban on gay sex.(Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty)
Homosexuality was first decriminalized in India in 2009, then the judgement was overturned in 2013. Thursday's Supreme Court decision overturned the 2013 judgement, unanimously ending the ban on gay sex.(Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty)

Subramanian Swamy, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, one of two major parties in India and the current ruling party, condemned the judgement as an “American game” and referred to homosexuality as a “genetic disorder.”

Aher remains undettered.

“People in Indian parliament are still afraid to see the new age India or what the society wants. They are still struggling to accept change and are still dealing with their own religious and caste prejudices,” she says, adding that this judgement is an opportunity for the government to join in the change.

“If they don’t grab it now, we are not going to wait for them.”

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