Asia

Indian High Court gives LGBT rights a boost

Delhi High Court (Photo courtesy of Delhi High Court)

Delhi High Court (Photo courtesy of Delhi High Court)

The Delhi High Court issued a ruling last week that strengthens the legal status of LGBT people.  It comes in the wake of one progressive ruling and one repressive one from the Indian Supreme Court in recent years:

  • Supreme Court of India (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

    Supreme Court of India (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

    A controversial decision in late 2013 that reinstated the colonial-era sodomy law, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which had been overturned in 2009 by the Delhi High Court.

  • A landmark 2014 judgment, in the case of National Legal Services Authority (NLSA) v. Union of India and Ors, that people outside of traditional male and female roles, including hijras and eunuchs, should be  treated as “third gender.” The judgment also upheld transgender persons’ right to self-identify their gender as male, female or as third gender.

The News Minute of India reported about last week’s decision:

In freeing Shivy, Delhi HC made observations which are a major boost for LGBT rights in India

Shivani "Shivy" Bhat (Photo courtesy of TheNewsMinute.com/YouTube)

Shivani “Shivy” Bhat (Photo courtesy of TheNewsMinute.com/YouTube)

In what is being hailed as a progressive move by both activists and members of the LGBT community, the Delhi High Court on Monday observed that “gender identity and sexual orientation are fundamental to the right of self-determination, dignity and freedom.”

The court was hearing a petition in which Shivani Bhat, a US-based NRI [non-resident Indian] transgender person had alleged that his parents had brought him forcibly to India to reform him and to teach him to be a “proper girl”.

19-year-old Shivani, who identifies himself as a man and prefers to be addressed as Shivy, also alleged that he was illegally confined in his grandparents’ home in Agra when he came to visit them earlier this year.

Shivy managed to contact Nazariya, a queer feminist resource group, and got their help in moving to Delhi.Stating that “everyone has a fundamental right to be recognized in their chosen gender”, Justice Siddharth Mridul of the Delhi HC observed that “These freedoms lie at the heart of personal autonomy and freedom of individuals. A transgender’s sense or experience of gender is integral to their core personality and sense of being.”

He noted that transgender persons not only “enjoy basic human rights including protection from violence and discrimination,” but they also have the right to dignity and self-determination.” …

Dr. L Ramakrishnan of Saathii, the organization Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India. (Photo courtesy of Saathii)

Dr. L Ramakrishnan of Saathii, the organization Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India. (Photo courtesy of Saathii)

Dr L Ramakrishnan from the health and human rights NGO Saathii [Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India] said that the Delhi HC ruling was significant as it reinforced the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling upholding the rights of transgender people.

“While granting relief to a transgender man, the [High Court] ruling served to reinforce the fact that the transgender community is diverse and may include people identifying as third gender as well as those identifying within the gender binary — and that all are covered by the judgement,” [Ramakrishnan] says.

Justice Mridul’s order is also being seen as a stern message to parents of transgender youth that their children have the right to determine their own gender identity, Dr Ramakrishnan adds. …

Vyjayanthi Vasanta Mogli, a transgender person who works with a corporate organisation in Hyderabad, feels that the HC’s order is a “shot of encouragement” for LGBT activists.”This can be used in the future to give leverage to similar such cases in court,” says Vyjayanthi.

However, she is skeptical whether this order will be able to usher in significant changes in the mindsets of people. No stranger to discrimination, just last month Vyjayanthi, along with her friends, was denied entry into GVK One, a plush mall in Hyderabad. “I was yelled at, and publicly humiliated for near half hour. One staff member even told me ‘tum jaise log andar nahi aa sakte’ (People like you cannot come inside the mall).”

The impact of the order, however, she feels, is limited unless measures are taken to help those in the lower rungs of the community. “Will the government pass the transgenders rights bill? Will it implement the NLSA ruling? There are many organisations which claim to be LGBT-friendly, but do they have employees from these communities? Can an organisation say they are women-friendly and not hire a single woman employee?” she asks.

“The judgement importantly talks about family pressure from the angle of custodial violence, an issue which is mostly seen in the context of the police,” says Rituparna Borah, an activist, adding that “the ruling will give hope to many. People will feel they too have a chance.”

Shivy flew back to the States on Saturday, soon after the court gave its order. He says he is happy that he can continue with his life and studies in the US now.

Nazariya welcomed the ruling and stated in its blog:

“The parents did not imagine that a court would step in to protect constitutional rights of Shivy and other queer people supporting him. They were firmly rebuked by the court today, when they were told by the judge that he would ‘end this bigotry today’. We are greatly encouraged by this judgment. The LGBTQIA movement will continue to fight for inalienable rights of transpersons when their families act criminally against them.”

For more information, see the full article in The News Minute, related articles below, and the Nazariya blog post, “Remarkable Judgement by Supreme Court reaffirming the rights of a trans person, Shivy.”

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