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‘Ignorance Is No Justification For Discrimination’ – Justice A Venkatesh


Author: Parishi Jain, 2nd Year BLS. LL.B at SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law.

Law school’s notice boards are often filled with bulletins sometimes flyers, but mostly with progressive quotations; and I recall reading one such quote which said, ‘Homophobia has a cure – Education’.

Back in April, Venkatesh J became a modern judicial role model when he requested the appointment of a psychologist to undergo educational sessions, to better understand same-sex relationships, for an ongoing matter. The case involved two families filing missing person reports to have police trace down and catechize their lesbian daughters who had eloped from Madurai to Chennai. An activist and another member of the LGBTQIA+ community, who had provided shelter to the lesbian couple, were harassed during this process. The couple then moved the High Court against the atrocities faced by the queer community.

Now, in the spirit of the ongoing Pride Month and of Navtej Singh Johar v UOI 2018 and Nalsa v UOI 2014, this single judge bench of the Madras High Court released a set of interim guidelines for the protection of the LGBTQIA+ community. These guidelines are aimed to blunt the sharp edge of discrimination which the queer community faces on a daily basis.

With the issuance of these directions, Tamil Nadu is set to become to the first state to ban and criminalise ‘Conversion Therapies.’ These traumatic procedures are very prominent in India and are often performed at hospitals and religious centres. They are focused on converting the gender identity of transgender to cis-gender and in turn, violate the innate sense of selfhood – the essence of Right to Life under Article 21 – of homosexual and gender-nonconforming individuals.

In furtherance to this, the Police are now bound to close any complaints if the missing individual is found to be a consenting adult belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community after receiving their statement without subjecting them to harassment. The Court has also asked authorities to conduct awareness and sensitisation programs for Police, Judicial and other authorities regularly in accordance with the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 and Rules 2020, such that the queer community is not subjected to any intimidation at any step of the Justice Delivery process.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has been asked to enlist NGOs and community-based help groups, to handle the issues faced by the queer community, within 8 weeks. Union government is to develop adequate infrastructural arrangements within 12 weeks at Anganwadis, Garima Greh and short-stay homes for this community. Moreover, it is to be ensured that transgender and gender-nonconforming prisoners are housed separately than cis-men prisoners to eliminate chances of sexual assault by latter to former.

In addition to this the guidelines direct Parent Teachers Associations to sensitize parents on this issue, ensure gender-neutral restrooms are available in school premises, the inclusion of ‘transgender’ in M and F gender column, the appointment of counsellors who are LGBTQIA+ inclusive, availability of change of name and gender on academic records for transgender persons etc.

These guidelines are acknowledging unlearning of prejudices at heart to clear space for acceptance of fluidity of sexuality and orientation as legitimate expressions of human differences to ensure cohabitation. It remains to be seen how efficiently, quickly and willingly these guidelines are accepted and whether such progressive directions are implemented across the country.


REFERENCES

  1. Bharathi SP, In Historic Order, Madras HC gives Guidelines Against Discrimination of LGBTQI+ people, The News Minute (June 07, 2021), www.thenewsminute.com/article/historic-order-madras-hc-gives-guidelines-against-discrimination-lgbtqi-people-150236.
  2. Without Prejudice, The Indian Express (June 09, 2021), www.indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/madras-high-court-homosexuality-conversion-therapy-7350132/.
  3. Arun Janardhanan, ‘Cure Therapy’ Ban to Training for Police: Madras HC reaches out to LGBTQ, The Indian Express (June 08, 2021), www.indianexpress.com/article/india/cure-therapy-ban-to-training-for-police-madras-high-court-reaches-out-to-lgbtq-7348680/.
  4. Madras High Court Bans Medical attempts to “Cure” Sexual Orientation, issues Guidelines for LGBTQIA+ Community Safety, India Legal Live (June 07, 2021), www.indialegallive.com/constitutional-law-news/courts-news/madras-high-court-bans-medical-attempts-to-cure-sexual-orientation-issues-guidelines-for-lgbtqia-community-safety/.

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