Open letter to CJI from queer Indian students of 10 IITs and 42 other colleges re same-sex marriage
Students urge the apex court to take cognisance of the continuum of exclusion they experience—from homophobia and transphobia in educational spaces, to inability to legally marry or form a family unit
Students from over 52 queer collectives across Indian universities and colleges, including 10 different Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), have penned a letter to Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Friday, as the Supreme Court continues to hear a batch of pleas seeking legal validation of same-sex marriage.
The students also demand that the CJI take into account "the homophobic and transphobic discrimination" that they regularly face in their respective educational spaces, which hinders "their learning experience" and deprives them of "basic rights".
The students wrote that recognising the queer community's right to marry and right to form a family would be a small step towards acknowledging that trans and queer persons have a right to mainstream social inclusion and visibility "as equal and dignified stakeholders in the democratic progress of India"—and not merely be tolerated as tokens within a 'Diversity and Inclusion' category and that only in progressive public spaces.
"We, the students and members of different LGBTQIA+ collectives across various colleges and universities in India, urge the Supreme Court to take cognisance of the status of LGBTQIA+ persons and recognise the right to marry and the right to family for every individual, irrespective of their class, caste, race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion and disability, in line with Article 14 of the Indian Constitution," the letter begins.
The students delineate the import of discrimination they suffer at their respective campuses: "Schools and colleges, as primary sites of socialisation beyond the family, become the first public spaces for an individual to understand what it feels to be a rights-bearing individual, and to first-hand experience social stigma."
"Trans–queer persons navigate a life to survive identity-based discrimination in our educational system, we read books that call us deviants, hear professors who chide us on our difference, peers who make us scripts of their jokes and administration who reduce us as human problems. The emergence of so many LGBTQIA+ collectives in the past years is a testament to the failure of the State in actively making space, starting conversations, and sustaining support systems to aid trans–queer students," the letter reads further.
The students claim that the discrimination they face in educational spaces is not isolated from how they are perceived in society at large.
"Our plight in our educational system is not disjointed from the question of marriage or family as a legal non-recognition of our right to marry and right to [chosen] family reinforces the idea that we are social deviants and experience the social impact of it in our schools, colleges and universities," Vaivab Das (they/them), the coordinator of IIT Delhi's LGBTQIA+ collective told the National Herald.
"From the ongoing hearing, we have realised how the law, its practitioners, [its] protectors and its creator[s] do not understand how partial recognition of rights does not change the ground reality for many of us," Vaivab added.
"The law is a broken system for us. The Indian judiciary has set important precedents for the LGBTQIA+ community in the NALSA vs UoI judgement 2014 and the Navtej Singh Johar vs UoI judgement 2018. However, the Indian government has been reluctant to mainstream the directives at a policy and administrative level," they said upon being asked how the law protects queer persons.
"The eventual judgement will be remembered as a watershed moment in two probable ways—either it will be a moment of rejoicing when the equality rights of the largest population of LGBTQIA+ persons were recognised by a Constitutional Court, or it will be a reminder of how our LGBTQIA+ lives continue to be compromised at the alter of social morality and prejudices," Vaivab asserts.
The students' letter comes a day after the sixth day of hearings at the SC, where Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the BJP-led Centre, argued that the recognition of same sex marriage would be "used to defend incest and incestuous relationships".
The arguments are set to resume next week on May 3 and the Centre is expected to provide a report on the legal rights and recognition that can be granted to same-sex couples.