Gayatri Kasibhatta | Social Thikana
There are many branches on the tree of life. There is no one way to be, and there is room for everyone to be who they are. This is the quote that features in the recent landmark judgement by Madras HC in which it banned conversion therapy making Tamil Nadu the first state to ban conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy is an umbrella term for various interventions of wide-ranging nature with a common objective that one can and should change the sexual orientation and gender identity of the LGBTQIA+ community. They believe that one can change gay, lesbian, bisexual person to heterosexual and transgender and gender non-conforming people to cisgender. It is a globally frowned upon practice, which is widely available in medical institutions as well as religious institutions. UN Human rights Office of High commissioner in May 2020 released a report of the same and called for a global ban on conversion therapy.
The judgement was delivered by Justice Anand Venkatesh who suggested a ban on health professionals from attempting to medically ‘cure or change’ the sexual orientation or gender identity of queer people. The court also directed the National Medical Commission, Indian Psychiatric Society and Rehabilitation Council of India to take action, including withdrawal of licence to practice, against professionals involved in any form or method of conversion “therapy” to LGBTIQA+ community members.
This apart, Justice N Anand Venkatesh laid down a slew of guidelines covering issues ranging from gender-neutral restrooms for the gender-nonconforming student and help to change name/gender on academic records for transgender persons, besides suggesting separate jails for transsexuals. These are among the directives of far-reaching consequences issued by Justice Anand Venkatesh, who chose to undergo ‘psycho-education’ under qualified counsellors to understand same-sex relationship issues, before writing the 125-page verdict.
The case relates to a Madurai-based lesbian couple, aged 23 and 20 years, who chose to live as a married couple. Facing resistance from their families, they fled to Chennai and took refuge with an NGO. As police continued to visit them following complaints lodged by their parents, the two had moved the high court to restrain cops from harassing them. Saying LGBTQIA+ persons are entitled to their privacy and “have a right to lead a dignified existence, which includes their choice of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender presentation, gender expression and choice of partner thereof”, the court said, “This right and the manner of its exercise are constitutionally protected under Article 21 of the Constitution.”
He said police probing man/girl missing complaints should close them without harassing the members if they find out that the person concerned is a consenting individual in the company
of LGBTIQA+. He also suggested the Union and the state governments effect change in curricula of schools and universities to educate students on understanding the LGBTIQA+ community.
The court has also directed the Union government to devise policies to eliminate prejudices against LGBTIQA+ people and organize sensitization programme for the judiciary, police, public servants, health professionals and parents of LGBTIQA+ persons.
Justice Anand Venkatesh said the Union government should enlist NGOs, including community-based groups, which have sufficient expertise in handling the issues faced by the LGBTIQA+ community. “Any person who faces an issue for the reason of their belongingness to the LGBTIQA+ community may approach any of the enlisted NGOs for safeguarding and protecting their rights,” the judge said. Highlighting the need to create awareness in the judiciary as well, the court has suggested the legal services authority concerned and the law ministry conducts awareness programmes for judicial officers at all levels in coordination with the enlisted NGOs and community support and to provide suggestions/ recommendations to ensure non-discrimination of persons belonging to the LGBTIQA+ community.
“Through Parents-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings, sensitize parents on issues of LGBTIQA+ community and gender nonconforming students, to ensure supportive families,” the court said.
Asserting that the issue involved requires regular monitoring and follow up, the court decided to keep the petition pending and adjourned the matter to August 31 for passing further orders.
This judgement marks an important moment in the queer rights movement of India. We have come a long way from a Judge in Delhi HD asking, “Do you know any homosexuals? I do not know any homosexual person”, while presiding over a case on the unconstitutionality of section 377, to this point today where a judge in Madras HC willingly undergoes psycho-education under qualified qualifications to deliver better, inclusive judgements. This also comes at an important time of the year- in June. June is celebrated as Pride month where we celebrate the queer community and the global queer rights movement. It is also to commemorate the anniversary of the stonewall riots which is an important milestone in queer rights history.
This is not the only progressive judgement by Madras HC. In April 2019, the Madras HC had banned forced sex selection surgeries on intersex infants. This highlights a promising and inclusive future for the queer community of India. This renews the hope of every Indian.