In the Pursuit of my Heart
“I am the society, with all the misconceptions present.”
-The Hon’ble Mr. Justice N. Anand Venkatesh
In March of 2021, the Madras High Court was approached by two women. These two women, aged 22 and 20, were a lesbian couple. The respondents (the couple) had missing-girl-complaints filed by their respective parents after these two women fled to Chennai. They had to leave their home towns because their parents disapproved of their relationship. Upon facing interrogation by the police at their residence, they sensed a threat to their safety and security. The respondents sought direction from the court to the police to stop harassing them, and protecting them from any form of threat.
This case had to be dealt with sensitivity and empathy, as was noted in the judgement. After all, the idea same-sex couples is treated with hostility in Indian society. The proceedings of this case took a non-traditional path. For this case, the Hon’ble Mr. Justice N. Anand Venkatesh wished to speak to the respondents and their parents himself. The parents’ reasoning for not supporting their daughters’ relationship stemmed from fear. Fear that their daughters would become outcasts in the society, won’t be treated with respect, and their safety.
The Hon’ble Mr. Justice N. Anand Venkatesh decided to facilitate conversation between the first and second respondents and their respective parents. This was followed by referring the petitioner and their parents to a counselor specialized in working with LGBTQIA+ individuals. Furthermore, the court witnessed a first in Indian judiciary’s mannerism when dealing with cases having LGBTQIA+ individuals as petitioners. The judge openly acknowledged his lack of knowledge pertaining to the case. Not only did he undergo counselling, but also instructed the parents to do the same. On the other hand, the respondents’ love for each other was openly acknowledged in the court, and they were not asked to attend any form of counselling. Moreover, the missing person’s case filed against the couple was to be dropped immediately. An interaction was also held between the Hon’ble Judge Dr. L.Ramakrishnan, Vice President, SAATHII, Ms. Shanmathi, PCVC, Dr. Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju (identifying as a transwoman), Digital-Content Creator, Actor, MBBS Intern – Kasturba Medical College and her mother Ms. Haima Haldar so that Mr. Justice N. Anand Venkatesh could gain better understanding of what is it like to belong to the LGBTQIA+ community.
All of the court mandated counselling sessions, including the Hon’ble Judge’s counselling session, were undertaken by Ms. Vidya Dinakaran. Her reports were discussed in detail in the court’s written judgement. While the counselling didn’t convince the respondents’ parents with regards to supporting their children’s relationship, it did bring out their reservations about the same out in the open before the court. The common reason was a fear of shame and societal rejection they might face because of the nature of their children’s relationship. While they agreed to adopt a passive stance on their daughters’ relationship, it was out of a sense of resignation and disdain, not acceptance. In my opinion these reservations laid the first foundation for the judgement. What is highly commendable is the fact that the judgement revealed the prejudices and ignorance Hon’ble Mr. Justice N. Anand Venkatesh had towards same-sex relationships. The usual course of action would have been for him to collate scholarly papers and make a sound judgement based on it. However, the Hon’ble Judge claimed, “an institution is something that is supposed to work for the betterment of the society and hence is not separate from it.” Thus, he sat down with experts of the field, to discuss his biases, and publicly revealed them. Reading those prejudices, the mentality commonly prevalent amongst the masses is necessary to understand the intricacies of this case. From being considered as exclusively sexual partners, to having a society arranged against your foundational existence is what the LGBTQIA+ individuals face daily. From banks and home loans, to issuance of marriage certificates, these individuals need to fight for their basic rights of recognition in every facet of life.
Before the judgement was released, the court elegantly gave its interpretation of Article 15. Stemming from examples across the globe, the court had very multiple insights on the bearings of Articles 14 and 15 to this case. While Article 14 guarantees every Indian citizen equality before the law, Article 15 of the Indian Constitution has been open to interpretation time and again. In the Naz Foundation v. Government of the NCT of Delhi reported in 2010, it was established by the ruling of Chief Justice A.P Shah that: “We hold that sexual orientation is a ground analogous to sex and that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not permitted by Article 15…..” Along with this, the judgement of Indu Malhotra, J., who pointed out the immutable characters common in the grounds of protection against discrimination guaranteed Article 15 mentioned, was also noted. Numerous other judgements of LGBTQIA+ pertaining petitions were discussed in depth. Drawing from his discussion, rigorous study of the past cases and thorough counselling, the Hon’ble Mr. Justice N. Anand Venkatesh gave a set of guidelines aimed at reducing the social, judicial, educational and medical stigma surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community members in the state of Tamil Nadu.
The judgement for this case was released on 7th June 2021. It is the nature of law to take precedence from past rulings. To have a court of such high degree release a statement in favour of the LGBTQIA+ respondents. For a judge to remove his Lordship’s hat and delve into the life of a commoner. For a judge to reveal their prejudices and work on them to deliver an unbiased judgement. All of these things are previously unheard of. These actions will speak volume for those who have been treated as social outcasts for the last century or so. The court’s judgment that had executive elements to it goes on to contribute towards the creation of a society accepting and empowering the LGBTQIA+. Oftentimes, the reasoning behind opposition for the integration of LGBTQIA+ sensitivity in all facets of public life is apprehension by the majority of Indian. But for once, instead of serving it as an excuse, this apprehension is being combated through Judicial Guidelines. It is my belief that this judgement is going to echo far in the history of Indian Judiciary. And I hope that it stands as a benchmark for the cases that are to come.
The month of June has been universally declared as the Pride Month. This year the spirit of Pride Month embodied and manifested itself into action in India. There are a lot of reforms needed in multiple Indian states to help build a society for every Indian citizen and this ruling shows that we are indeed capable of change.