Clipped from: https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/second-edit/welcome-madras-hc-ruling-996530.htmlRuling puts sexual autonomy on stronger footing. Credit: DH File Photo
The Madras High Court’s order on Monday on the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and on the government and society’s responsibility to respect them is remarkable in many ways. If the landmark Supreme Court judgement of 2018 decriminalised homosexuality, the single judge order now has built on it conceptually and in practical terms. Justice N Anand Venkatesh linked the right of LGBTQIA+ persons to sexual autonomy to the right to privacy of citizens and gave it a stronger footing. It follows that sexual minorities of any kind should have the freedom to choose the way they want to live, and socialise and communicate the way they want to, without interference. If society is found wanting in its response and interfering, it is the duty of the government to ensure that the rights are respected.
The court laid down a comprehensive set of guidelines for handling matters concerning same-sex couples, prescribed don’ts and underlined the need to sensitise society on their rights. It prohibited attempts to “medically cure” persons from the LGBTQIA+ community through ‘conversion therapy’ and said that professionals involved in any form of ‘conversion’ practices would face penalties, including revocation of their licences. Such traumatic procedures violate the sense of identity and dignity of the persons of the community. The court issued the guidelines on a petition filed by a lesbian couple who had fled their homes, seeking protection. It ordered protection for them and directed the police to close ‘missing persons’ complaints if an enquiry confirms them to involve consenting adults of the LGBTQIA+ community. Other directions include provision of shelters and short-stay homes for trans-persons, holding sensitisation programmes for all sections of society, making changes in school and college curricula, building gender-neutral washrooms and a number of other measures that will help to remove the prejudices and discriminatory practices against LGBTQIA+ individuals.
It is worth noting that when the hearings started, the judge felt that he lacked the knowledge needed to judge the case. So, he decided to educate himself on the subject by talking to psychologists and other experts and interacting with members of the LGBTQIA+ community. He said that “whatever they said sounded very natural and made me question myself as to where the conflict actually arises.” His conclusion was that the problem lay more with society than with the law. That would also mean that society can solve the problem only by accepting the varied spectrum of sexuality as right and normal.