Love and lawfare: Indian courts as battleground for queer rights

Indian LGBT/queer activists seem to have been successful in fighting their battles and seeking justice through courts. In the recently published article “No Going Back. A Case Study of Sexual and Gender Minorities in India and their Legal Mobilisation” (Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal), as well as in a news article in the magazine Gaylaxy, Vikram Kolmannskog explores and explains legal mobilisation as experienced by sexual and gender minority activists in India.

“While the initial decision to litigate was controversial, Indian activists now seem to agree that the impact of litigation has been overall positive”, Kolmannskog writes in the journal article.

– Factors that may help explain its success include the particular Indian institution of Public Interest Litigation, engagement on the wider social arena in parallel with the judicial, and positive media attention, he explains.

Risky business
But this so-called lawfare is a strategy with potential advantages as well as risks.

– Critics within the community initially raised various concerns. Some were concerned about potential negative impacts. The issue of timing was raised, that India and the courts were not ready and it might backfire with even harsher legislation being introduced, Kolmannskog says.

– Furthermore, the nature of judicial decisions, a more or less complete win or lose, was risky; if they did not win in court it would be very different from a temporary defeat in the legislature or elsewhere. Another possible unintended consequence and negative impact could be the awakening of – what some considered – a more or less sleeping law by bringing it into the limelight, he adds.

Solidarity with marginalized groups
But despite the many concerns and controversies linked to this lawfare strategy, Indian LGBT/queer activists now seem to agree that the impact of litigation has been overall positive, Kolmannskog argues.

The researcher also explains how their lawfare  seems to have contributed towards opening up other, political avenues for activism. An important question for many LGBT/queer Indians is now whether to focus narrowly on promoting LGBT rights, perhaps even entering into an alliance with the Hindu Right in power, or show solidarity and ally with other, increasingly marginalised and oppressed categories of people.

– The question of intersectionality and solidarity with other marginalised people has become a burning question in today’s India. There are LGBT/queer people allied to the Hindu Right, and the BJP is not entirely hostile to the issue of LGBT/queer rights. This is creating some tensions within the movement. As several of the activists point out, we have multiple identities – being both gay and Muslim, lesbian and Dalit, etc. – so it makes sense to have an intersectional approach. Some believe it is also strategic to ally with other social movements. It is also important in itself, for many LGBT/queer activists, to show solidarity with those marginalised, whatever the reason for the marginalisation, Kolmannskog says.

Vikram Kolmannskog is an independent researcher affiliated to the Centre on Law and Social Transformation. This research is part of the LawTransfrom project on Sexual & Reproductive Rights Lawfare: Global Battles.