“Ignorance is no justification”: As Madras HC provides guidelines to protect LGBTQIA+ community, Justice Venkatesh explains how he overcame prejudice

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Justice N. Anand Venkatesh, in a single judged bench at the Madras HC, told the court he was “not fully woke”.

Author: Lavanya Thankappan

“Society needs to change, not the LGBTQIA+ couples,” said Justice N. Anand Venkatesh in what is considered to be a landmark attempt at destigmatizing the LGBTQIA+ community of India. As a part of the interim order, the Madras High Court banned “conversion therapy” often endured by people of the LGBTQIA+ community, thereby making Tamil Nadu the first state in India to outlaw the oppressive practice. It also directed schools and universities to educate the students about the community as part of their curricula and “ordered the state government and Central authorities to prepare plans of comprehensive reforms aimed at respecting the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons.”

Members of the LGBTQIA+ (an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transexual, queer/questioning, intersex/, asexual/agender/aromantic, and others) revelled the small victory towards the attainment of complete freedom and hegemony of their lives, sexuality, and gender.

Unfolding the Origin of This Ruling

The order comes following a plea filed by a young lesbian couple who approached the Madras High Court accusing the police of “harassing questioning” and requesting protection from their disapproving families in April of this year. The two had fled from their hometown in Madurai and reached Chennai when they were taken into Madurai police custody acting on a Missing Persons FIR lodged by their families. During the course of action, an LGBTQIA+ activist and a transman were also allegedly harassed and threatened by Madurai police for offering shelter to the escaped couple. 

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh, in a single judged bench at the Madras HC, told the court he was “not fully woke” on the aspects of the case and voluntarily underwent psycho-educative sessions with a clinical psychologist to eliminate his pre-conceived notions of the LGBTQIA+ community.

He said, “I have no hesitation in accepting that I too belong to the majority of commoners who are yet to comprehend homosexuality completely. The society and my upbringing have always treated the terms”homosexual”, “gay”, “lesbian” as anathema.” The court directed the parents of the petitioners to undergo counseling for the same. 

During the final verdict, the judge ruled in favor of the young couple while additionally recognizing the absence of laws to protect LGBTQIA+ individuals and couples. He asserts that the onus of change and acceptance falls not on the queer community but the society that stigmatizes them to suit their notions of social morality and traditions. 

Unlearning the Stigma Against the LGBTQIA+ Community

India is far from extending complete rights to its marginalized LGBTQIA+ Community for their basic livelihood. It wasn’t until 2018 that the heinous Sec 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizing homosexuality was overturned. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, which does more harm to transgender people than help, was passed in the parliament despite heavy protests from Trans rights activists. Recently, Delhi High Court opposed same-sex marriage stating ‘living together as partners not same as Indian family unit’.

The laws affecting the LGBTQIA+ community are reviewed and addressed by cis-gendered heterosexual people who fail to comprehend the actualities of queer lives by clinging to outdated norms and traditions. These regressions stagnate not only the Indian society but the lives of many LGBTQIA+ individuals. 

Madras High Court’s judgment is a small victory in our path. Justice N. Anand Venkatesh’s voluntarism of educating himself to quash his prejudices could be a precedent from here on out, leaving room for more improvements. Hopefully, the rendered judgment of imparting knowledge on LGBTQIA+ lives in schools and comprehensive reforms for the law enforcement officers will eventually be applied on a national level – which could be the first step in denouncing the collective stigma endured by the LGBTQIA+ community.

 

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