By Runjhun Noopur
The internet is by and large depressing; social media feeds more so. But today, my social media feed has been a constant source of delight, replete with Cliff Notes and updates from the landmark Supreme Court judgment that decriminalised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The highest judicial body in this country has finally done the right thing.
We are on the cusp of a rainbow dawn. But this is not a story about the judgment. This story is about Kantaben.
It was the year 2003, and Karan Johar had just begun his now legendary quest of talking gay without really talking about it at all. Enter Kal Ho Naa Ho, and of course Kantaben, a character more meaningful, symbolic and socially relevant than KJo’s entire filmography.
Because Kantaben wasn’t just a character. She was a walking metaphor of a social malady that unfortunately has managed to persist even today, over a decade since Kantaben first swooned at the sight of two hot men getting cosy – not because it was hot but because it was “hawww”.
Kantaben summarised the issue that lies at the core of the battle against 377. The issue that is the tacit legitimacy that 377 granted to a taboo that was as juvenile as it was infuriating, a moral burden our society and its supposed guardians thrust upon us. Because of course 377 was not just about the State cock-blocking its citizens and interfering where it has no business being. It is also not about whether or not 377 was implemented in letter and spirit.
It is about how 377’s very existence legitimised Kantaben, and in turn the idea that homosexuality is some sort of a corruption that taints our kids, that homosexuality is “not natural”. Kantaben is our society in a nutshell in so much as refusing to even believe that something like homosexuality can exist. Kantaben is our society who is in constant need of smelling salts otherwise known as logic, sensitivity and sensibility when it comes to homosexuality.
That silence has been broken. People are talking. Kantabens are listening, lips pursed and a lingering helplessness in the air.
The Kantabens of our society have a long and chequered history of reactions that range from minor indignation to major ostracism to full-blown violence.
Kantabens are everywhere. In our families where we are promptly shut up and asked to “be decent” in our conversations whenever the topic is brought up. In our politics as extremist organisations defending their religion (and metaphorical manhood) from the onslaught of the gay apocalypse. In our societies as the goons of the moral police ready to enforce their idea of decency through every means available. In our offices as bosses who fire employees based on who they choose to sleep with. In our schools as teachers who continue to reinforce the idea of a gendered existence.
Twitter is where the Internet goes to die. These days, it is the place where Kantabens converge and try to diss an issue that has clearly gotten out of their hands.
“I am not saying gay rights should not be recognised,” a twitter Kantaben on my feed whined recently, faux righteousness right in place, “but really the way everyone is going on about gay rights, it seems that is the only issue in the country. What about poverty and farmerrights and blah blah…”
Underneath this idiotic whataboutery is an anguish which is representative of the angst of Kantabens across society. They are fidgety. They are uncomfortable. They are on the backfoot and have been so for a few years now. Because if there is one thing that this long, painful battle against 377 has achieved, it is breaking the code of silence, once and for all. A silence that had been enforced by force and false morality, a silence that had been weaponised to deny sexual minorities not just their rights but their identity and their basic humanity.
That silence has been broken. People are talking. Kantabens are listening, lips pursed and a lingering helplessness in the air. Homosexuality may still not be a popular dinner table discussion topic, but the fact that there is pushback against this taboo from the highest judicial body in this country has thrown this issue out in open like never before.
No wonder, Kantabens miss the silence. No wonder, they feel cornered.
Because seriously, Kantabens don’t want to hear about it. Perhaps because when people start talking, discussing, debating and using their brains, Kantabens have no ground to stand on. So much so, that even when Supreme Court botched up its previous judgment a few years ago, the outrage, the outpouring of support from all corners ensured that it did not feel like a victory for them. It was as if even when they won, they lost.
The ramifications of what happened at the Supreme Court are not merely a matter of legality. It is a matter of finally pushing the Kantabens where they belong – into the dark, dingy corners where even our current government is wary of treading. It is about acknowledging the existence and the struggles of an entire segment of our society. Because homosexuality and LGBT rights are not elite, privileged, First World issues. Anyone who believes that has to go easy on Karan Johar binge and watch Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh instead to know that this is an issue that cuts across class, caste, age and gender.
This is an issue where our collective silence has killed and is still killing people.
A friend from law school, a dedicated crusader of LGBT rights, recently took to social media to narrate the story of how he was estranged from his parents when he came out. Six years later, during the SC hearing of the 377 case, his father called him up and asked if he needed him and his mother to come to the court to support him. It was a moving, dramatic story of human triumph. It was also a reminder that this battle is as much about a legal victory as it is about finally having a long due conversation. A conversation that many of our friends, acquaintances, and fellow human beings have spent a lifetime waiting for.
As for Kantabens, they better shut up and stock up on those smelling salts. They are going to need it.