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On June 7, the Madras High Court acknowledged the constitutional duty of the state to protect individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community who face backlash from their families and/or society. The Bench of Justice Anand Venkatesh issued guidelines to create a safe environment for these individuals. This historic judgement came after Justice Anand Venkatesh sought to educate himself on homosexuality and the LGBTQIA+ community in order to shed his ignorance towards the discrimination faced by them. But one question remains- are legal guidelines enough to put an end to prejudice and discrimination?
Take the story of Disha*, a 24-year-old woman who was married off against her will, at the age of 17. In the course of her marriage, she realized that she was queer and couldn’t stay in a heterosexual relationship. This led to a falling out between Disha and her husband. Later in life, she met Richa* in her hometown and started living with her. But soon after, an FIR was registered by Richa’s brother and she was forcibly taken away, despite being over the age of 18.
When Disha came out as queer to her family, she was subjected to physical and verbal abuse. She received death threats that made her fearful for her safety and so, she left her house with Richa on April 17. After this, Disha was bombarded with phone calls from her family, as they tried to find her whereabouts. She also received a WhatsApp message with a copy of an FIR that reported her missing, even though her family was still in touch with her. Fearing that her family would resort to honour killing or would physically harm her, Disha filed a petition seeking police protection. During the hearing, she stated that she and her partner were consenting adults who were “conscious of their relationship”.
Upon hearing the case on June 25, Justice M Nirmal Kumar asked the police to close the missing person’s report and not harass the couple and to provide them with appropriate protection following the guidelines issued on June 7.
Besides instructing police to close cases where ‘missing’ individuals are found to be consenting LGBTQIA+ adults, various other guidelines that prevent harassment were issued. Some of them being:
- The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (MSJE) must enlist contact information of NGOs with expertise in handling issues faced by the community. These NGOs must maintain confidential records of people who approach them and produce them to MSJE bi-annually.
- Any attempts to “cure” or change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity are prohibited.
- Sensitization programmes are to be conducted among officials and at schools, to promote inclusivity.
- Existing shelter homes, Anganwadi shelters, and Garima Greh to accommodate everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Despite issuing these guidelines, Justice Anand Venkatesh stated that the problem doesn’t lie in whether the law recognizes these individuals or not. He said that society must let go of preconceived notions and accept everyone instead of expecting someone to turn themselves inside out. His words ring true and we need to understand that these guidelines simply fill gaps created by societal norms while our Nation embarks upon a journey towards inclusivity, acceptance, and empowerment.
*Names changed to keep the petitioners anonymous.
This article has been written by Pravallika Manju for The Paradigm
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