India gays celebrate one year since landmark verdict
MUMBAI, India — Hundreds of Indian gay rights activists and their supporters celebrated the first anniversary Friday of a landmark court ruling decriminalizing homosexuality and marking their gradual acceptance in the deeply conservative country.
Members of Mumbai's gay community danced, sang, laughed and hugged each other in the city's sprawling Azad Maidan park as speakers recalled the long years of struggle to get Indian courts to change the country's law.
On July 2 last year, the Delhi High Court struck down a law — Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code — that made sex between people of the same gender punishable by up to 10 years in prison. While actual criminal prosecutions were rare, the law was frequently used to harass people.
"I'm very excited. It's honestly independence day for us," said Arun Mirchandani, 28, who recently published his first book titled "You Are Not Alone" which deals with being homosexual in India.
The rally was part of an event dubbed "365 Without 377" that brought together gays, lesbians and civil rights activists in five cities across India, including New Delhi, Calcutta and Bangalore.
Vikram Doctor, an organizer of the event, said the verdict has reduced incidents of police harassment.
Other participants said the court's ruling had brought the issue of homosexuality into the open and people were discussing it in public, a dramatic change in conservative India where even heterosexual sex is generally talked about in hushed tones.
"It does mean a lot. People don't avoid us these days," said Anshuman Bludagoti, a student at the Institute of Hotel Management.
Before the verdict, Bludagoti said if he and his male friends held hands on the train, people sitting next to them would leave. But now "it's a lot more open than last year," he said.
Despite the greater openness, Bludagoti wore a mask at the rally. He said he had not revealed his sexual orientation to his family.
Rally participants said they still have a long way to go to ensure that the Supreme Court upholds last year's verdict. Many religious leaders have opposed the high court's verdict, arguing that gay sex should remain illegal.