Herald View: How does one keep hope alive?
A much-awaited verdict by our apex court that actually flattered to deceive, and a genocide in Gaza shook one awake into a world that is blind to both rights and wrongs
There is so much food for outrage in our world these days that it’s hard to focus. It’s also hard to decide where to vomit all the bile that rises to the throat, if not on social media, which has an excess of it anyway.
For the narrow frame of this weekly rant (for we keep waiting for an opportunity to celebrate something, anything, but something ghastly inevitably swims into the frame), we had two worthies—a much-awaited verdict by our very own Supreme Court, which flattered to deceive; and a horror show in the Middle East that some political observers have delicately described as a ‘conflict’. Or is it a genocide, an ethnic cleansing project, a prelude to a wider, all-consuming confrontation, a catastrophic prophecy?
The two events are not comparable in scale or theme, but the first came close to being that rare opportunity to ‘celebrate something, anything’, but of course it was not to be.
We have three perspectives in this edition (NH, 22 Oct) on why the equivocations of the Supreme Court constitution bench on the marriage equality case are a crushing disappointment.
Most poignantly for the queer community, who experience the social conservatism in a million practical ways, but also more generally for anyone attached to the philosophical underpinnings of Articles 14, 19 and 21, the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of the Indian Constitution. They form the ‘golden triangle’ because between them they enshrine a set of inalienable rights for all citizens. For all citizens! That definitional sweep should reasonably include all queer people.
Of course, there are caveats and restrictions and ifs and buts and maybes, but in spirit, it is quite straightforward—the Right to Equality (Art. 14), Right to Freedom (Art. 19), Right to Life and Liberty (Art. 21) apply equally to all Indian citizens.
The hope that the Supreme Court, which had (in September 2018) struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), decriminalising same-sex relations between consenting adults, will walk the same progressive path and legalise same-sex marriage was sadly belied.
Instead, the five-judge bench made some ‘empathetic’ noises but kicked the can down an uncertain road. Taking refuge in the letter of the existing law, the judges unanimously held that they couldn’t strike down or read down the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, 1954, to include non-heterosexual unions within the ambit of ‘marriage’.
In other words, it will take a new law. Which is to say queer folks must wait for a realignment of the stars—for what are the chances that this legislature, with a conservative majority and its incurable queerphobia, will bring in such a law?
On the same fateful Tuesday, 17 October 2023, when the Supreme Court pronounced this verdict, the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza Strip, over 4,000 kilometres from our national capital, became the theatre of an unbelievable breakdown of the post-WWII world order.
The hospital was bombed, in the deadliest strike yet in the ongoing Israel–Palestine war that broke out on October 7. Nearly 500 died, including not just the sick and their caregivers but also Palestinians fleeing the Israeli raids, sheltering here in the belief that the hospital was a safe haven.
The Geneva Conventions of 1949, framed and adopted after the Second World War, set down a wartime code. The Fourth Geneva Convention relates specifically to the protection of civilians in the time of war—in areas of armed conflict and in occupied territories such as the embattled Gaza Strip.
For example, civilians are to be protected from murder, brutality and discrimination on the basis of race, religion, nationality or political opinion (Art. 13, 32); civilian hospitals and staff are to be protected (Art. 18); civilians are not to be subjected to collective punishment or deportation (Art. 33, 49); occupying powers are to provide food and medical supplies to the civilian population and maintain medical and public health facilities (Art. 55); medical supplies and objects used for religious worship are to be allowed passage (Art. 55, 58); when that is not possible, occupying powers must help impartial humanitarian organisations such as the Red Cross fill the breach (Art. 59).
That reads like the code for a world that knows restraint, even in the face of war, and has mechanisms to ensure these restraints work. Not only have these restraints been violently cast aside in this war, it seems the only world power that has any real leverage over Israel—courtesy of the billions of dollars in assistance it sends every year to this strategic, long-time ally—has done nothing to lower the temperature, made no mention of a ‘ceasefire’ or made any restraining noises.
On the contrary, US president Joe Biden’s bearhug diplomacy in Tel Aviv, when he paid a visit on 18 October, will only have emboldened Israel—even if it seems to have alienated the Arab world. How this hair-trigger situation will play out is impossible to guess. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed.