Section 377: ‘When I came out, my parents took me to a psychiatrist… today my father called in a shaking voice’

The Indian Express/14 July 2018
By Professor Danish Sheikh

The hearings before the Section 377 Constitution Bench have had a markedly different quality from the 2012 Suresh Kumar Koushal hearings that led to the reinstatement of the law. Over the course of this week, the judges have displayed a remarkable sense of empathy in hearing the petitioners while also ensuring that the arguments presented by the respondents are grounded in Constitutional rights as opposed to blatant prejudice. Things have changed within the judiciary.

On a break from the hearings Friday, I had the chance to register a somewhat unexpected barometer of change.


Six years ago, as the hearings in Koushal began, I came out to my parents. They reacted with anger and sorrow and then took me to a psychiatrist who told us all that my homosexuality was a mental disorder, possibly the result of a tumour in my hypothalamus, which he could cure with aggressive instant treatment.


When I pointed out the World Health Organisation’s clear position on homosexuality not being a disease and threatened to file a complaint against him, he tried to convince my parents I was suffering from a form of schizophrenia.


I stormed out of the doctor’s office, and for a while, their lives. Something broke between us that day, a rift that we negotiated by always talking around the issue.


Over time, my mother and I made tentative progress, our conversations often mediated by the latest Bollywood movie which featured queer themes. My father, however, always maintained silence on this front.


When the Supreme Court came out with its verdict back in 2013, I was in Michigan, US during a particularly snowy winter. He called that day and asked how I was dealing with the cold, and whether I was taking adequate precautions to keep myself warm. We spoke politely about the weather for two minutes and politely ended the conversation.


This morning, he called, and in a shaking voice asked if I would like him and my mother to come to the court, if that would help and if I might need their support at this time?


It took me a while to find my voice.

Things can change.

(Danish Sheikh is a queer rights lawyer and Assistant Professor at Jindal Global Law School)