The court will be examining the legality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises “unnatural sex”.
On Tuesday, a newly re-constituted five-judge Supreme Court constitution bench will commence hearing petitions on repealing Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and thereby sexual relationship between persons of same sex.
The bench will hear six petitions and interventions filed by NGO Naz Foundation, parents of queer persons and Voices Against 377, a collective of human rights groups, among others. In all, 35 individuals have come before the court, which signals a growing confidence in the community to come out in the public eye and claim their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Here are the five original petitioners who claimed to have been directly affected by the top court’s decision:
Ritu Dalmia: The famous chef and restaurateur is synonymous with DIVA, a chain of Italian restaurants and cafés. She says she realised that she was a lesbian at the age of 23. The chef, who was awarded the Woman Chef of the Year in 2007, has authored several Italian cookbooks. She is best known for her cookbook, Italian Khaana.
Navtej Singh Johar: A Bharatnatyam dancer by profession, Navtej Singh Johar is also a yoga teacher and recipient of the 2014 Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. The 59-year-old who identifies as gay, moved the court along with his partner of 25 years, after he felt that Section 377 of the IPC violates the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Section 21 of the Indian Constitution. Johar taught at Michigan University in 2010 and currently serves as a visiting faculty in the performing arts department at Ashoka University.
Sunil Mehra: A journalist by profession, Mehra is the former editor of the Indian edition of Maxim magazine. The journalist has also directed, produced, written and anchored 86 episodes of ‘Centrestage’ on DD Metro and DD International between 1999 and 2001. Additionally, he co-founded the yoga and well-being centre, ‘Studio Abhyas’, with his partner Navtej Singh Johar.
Aman Nath: Writer, historian and hotelier Aman Nath was also among the founding members of India International Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). The acclaimed historian, along with his partner of 23 years Francis Wacziarg, established the acclaimed chain of Neemrana hotels which restores, preserves and runs hotels at historical sites. Nath and his partner were bestowed with lifetime achievement award by the ministry of tourism in 2014. Nath has a total of 15 books including works on arts and crafts and historical architecture to his credits.
Ayesha Kapur: Businesswoman Ayesha Kapur openly declares her sexuality today. The 43-year-old, who currently works in the food and beverages industry, would not have thought this possible in the ’80s Delhi she grew up in. ‘Lesbian’ was a bad word to be used, Kapur told the New York Times. A double major from Clark University Massachusetts, Kapur had earlier quit the post of business head at an e-commerce company over fears that her sexual orientation would be discovered.
An addition to the list is Delhi’s famous hotelier Keshav Suri, who had in April filed a fresh petition against Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Section 377
Keshav Suri: Suri is the executive director of Lalit Suri hospitality group. An alumnus of King’s College, London, Suri is open about his relationship with his gay partner Cyril. Lalit hotels’ club KittySu is a well-known and popular destination among the capital’s LGBTQ community with exclusive parties which allow them to discuss and express themselves.
The debate: It was in 2009 when Section 377 of IPC became a matter of public debate after the Delhi High Court set out a verdict decriminalising consensual same-sex acts by adults. However, in December 2012, the Supreme Court overturned HC’s decision calling it “legally unsustainable”. In 2013, the Supreme Court upheld Section 377 which criminalised same-sex relationships again.