Co-Written by Shobha Aggarwal & Dr. P.S. Sahni
11 August, 1992: ABVA organized the first ever protest demonstration in India condemning police atrocities on gay people, at Police Headquarters, New Delhi
Twenty-five years ago in November-December 1991, the AIDS BhedbhavVirodhiAndolan (AIDS Anti-discrimination Movement, ABVA) brought out the first Report titled ‘Less Than Gay’ on the status of homosexuality in India, The English language weekly, SUNDAY, then edited by VirSanghvi, dubbed it as pornographic literature! Aggrieved, ABVA moved the Press Council of India (PCI); a year and a half later after due deliberation the PCI ruled that the report was a well-researched Citizen’s Report and not pornographic in content. In 1992, when some persons were arrested by the Delhi Police from Central Park, Connaught Place, New Delhi – on the alleged ground that the accused persons were “about to commit homosexual acts” – a first public protest in India was organized by ABVA to condemn this police high-handedness at the Police Commissioner’s office, New Delhi.
We are reproducing the Charter of Demands – the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) manifesto – originally carried in the report. It is as relevant today as it was in 1991.
“CHARTER OF DEMANDS
ABVA urges the Government of India to take cognizance of the following demands and take urgentsteps towards their realization:
- Repeal all discriminatory legislation singling out homosexual acts by consenting adults inprivate – section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, and the relevant sections of the Army, Navy andAir Force Acts, 1950. In other words, decriminalise sodomy.
- Enact civil rights legislation to offer gay citizens and other sexual minorities such as hijras thesame protections now guaranteed to others on the basis of caste, creed, and colour. Amend theConstitution to include equality before the law on the basis of “sex” and “sexual orientation.”
- Recognize the right to privacy as a fundamental part of the citizen’s right to life and liberty,including the right to his or her sexual orientation.
- Reform police policy (for example, by calling a meeting of senior police officers, including allStation House officers (SHOs)), to put an end to the harassment of gay people at the hands ofthe police and public. Police authorities should take the initiative to make available informationon all local public nuisance laws used on gay people in public places, and the relevantprocedures and penalties specified therein. They should also make public the numbers of arrests,prosecutions and convictions of gay people under various laws along with the period ofsentence, amount of fine and age of the offenders.
- Establish a Commission to document human rights violations of gay people, such as violenceand blackmail directed at gay men and lesbians, as well as atrocities within marriage on lesbianswho may be married to men.
- Redefine the offence of rape in the Indian Penal Code to include all coercive sexual acts ratherthan only vaginal penetration. Rape laws should be made applicable to both men and women,irrespective of whether they are gay, nongay, married or single.
- Have the Press Council of India issue guidelines for respectful, sensitive and representativereporting on gay men and lesbians and issues around homosexuality.
- Have the Medical Council of India (MCI) issue guidelines to the effect that refusal to treat aperson on the basis of his/her sexual orientation is a cause for censure on grounds ofprofessional misconduct. Bring medical curricula in schools and medical collages in line with thelatest scientific theories of homosexuality.
- Consider unethical any reckless and uncalled for sex-change surgery without informed consentand counselling. Counselling should be made available to help a person deal with the normalityof his/her gender incongruities. Any irresponsible experimentation by medical professionals inthis area should be made punishable by law.
- Institute a massive, nation-vide survey of sexual behaviour in our society.
- Ensure that everyone receives judgement-free health education related to sexuality,homosexuality, Sexually transmitted Diseases (STDs), HIV testing, AIDS and condom use. AllAIDS-related education should explicitly acknowledge sexual interaction between people of thesame sex.
- Delete the clauses in the AIDS (Prevention) Bill, 1989, which lies pending before a JointParliamentary Committee) that provide for coercive testing, contact tracing, and isolation.Include explicit confidentiality on sexual orientation and anti-discrimination measures for theprotection of people with HIV/AIDS.
- Make available anonymous HIV testing facilities for all.
- Alter the heterosexist bias in education, from school onwards, by presenting positive images androle models of gay man and lesbians and of homosexuality as a viable, healthy alternativelifestyle.
- Amend the Special Marriages Act to allow for marriages between people of the same sex (orbetween people who may be inter-sexed, or have undergone sex-change surgery, and anyothers). All consequential legal benefits of marriage should extend to gay marriages as well,including the right to adopt children, to execute a partner’s will, to inherit, etc. Same-sexcouples should also be entitled to the legal benefits that accrue to their heterosexualcounterparts of common law marriages.
No presumption as to fitness or unfitness for custody ofa child or visitation rights shall arise based on sexual orientation of either parent in such asituation.
- Alternatively, legally recognize and encourage friendship agreements between single people ofthe same sex as a valid way of organizing family life.”
At the time of release of the Repot, ‘Less Than Gay’ a petition was sent to the Government of India, as also the Parliament of India urging for action on the Charter of Demands given at the end of the Report. The full text of the Report is available at:
ABVA had filed the first writ petition in Delhi High Court, in 1994 urging for striking down of Section 377, Indian Penal Code which criminalizes sodomy. The case was titled AIDS BhedbhavVirodhiAndolanVs. Union of India & others. The petition was dismissed in 2001. Subsequent legal efforts by heavily funded NGOs too have not succeeded. Of course a bunch of curative petitions are still pending in the Supreme Court. Justice eludes the LGBTQ Community. The Indian Parliament has blocked efforts of individual legislators made through the instrument of Private Members Bill. Hope lies in the continuing struggle of the LGBTQ Community.
[Shobha Aggarwal & Dr. P.S. Sahni are members of ABVA and can be contacted at: email@example.com]