Dear Supreme Court of India,
Last week, I came across two front-page headlines -- one in the part of the world where I live now and one where I come from. In the first headline, the CEO of the world's largest company, Tim Cook of Apple, came out as gay. While the act was applauded widely, Apple's stock barely moved that day. In other words, it was business as usual.
In the second headline, a 32-year-old employee of India's third-largest IT services organization, Infosys, was arrested in Bangalore, the technology capital of India. The "Bangalore techie", as newspapers started calling him, was arrested under Section 377, a law that criminalizes sexual activities "against the order of nature." In other words, a law that makes being gay illegal.
Now, there's more to this story, of course. This man was arrested because his wife caught him cheating on her with other men, using hidden cameras she had installed. She did this when she became suspicious that her husband might be gay because he would sleep in a different room and avoid any physical contact with her. In a cliché worthy of a mainstream Bollywood drama (which someone will make in 2030 to commercial success, I am sure), this was an arranged marriage. Should he have gotten himself into this marriage and the ensuing mess? Of course not! Should he have cheated on and lied to the unsuspecting (until she wasn't) wife? No, no, nooo! He wasn't arrested for either of these lapses, though. He was arrested and charged under the anti-gay law.
Dear Supreme Court, humor me for a few minutes and allow me to walk you through a bit of math here. I am resorting to math mostly because in December 2013, when you upheld Section 377 (after the country's second highest court had struck it down), you said that a "minuscule fraction" of India's population constitutes lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.
I am no demographic expert, but coming of age in a post-Google world, I have done my fair share of Googling and have realized that we do not yet have a consensus on how many gay people there are in any given population. What we do have a consensus on is that sexual orientation trumps national, race and ethnic boundaries. Just like a dislike for middle seats on airplanes and a craving for the newest iPad.
So, you could do what I did -- use keyword combinations such as "percentage of gay people in the world" or "demographics of sexual orientation" on Google and you will find estimates that range from 3 percent to about 20 percent, the latter being a figure published in the Smithsonian magazine in 2013 from surveys conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Kinsey, in 1948, pegged the number at around 10 percent, but that was in the prehistoric era.
To be conservative, let's be ultra-conservative. Let's go with the lower end of this range. Heck, lets go with the LOWEST end and say that 3 percent of people in India are L, G, B or T. That's a whopping 36 million people. No, it can't be, I hear you say. In fact, I am double-checking my math myself now. That's more than the population of Kerala. It's almost the population of Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir, combined!
Where are these people?
I suspect that the newspaper headline from last week may have somewhat of an answer. Is it possible that most of them are in sham marriages like the "Bangalore techie" with unsuspecting spouses, likely lacking sexual and emotional intimacy? Is it possible that this incident has lifted the curtain a bit to provide a peek into the lives of men and women who are forced to live these double lives?
There is only a "minuscule fraction" of the actual LGBT population that is out of the closet, partly because of Section 377. Wouldn't you hide something about you that made you a criminal and a social outcast?
I know you can't do much about the social outcast bit. But you can help with the criminal bit, which may have a ripple effect on the society also. ("Hey, the Supreme Court doesn't think you are a criminal anymore. Maybe you should have equal rights too? Hmm...") Wait, isn't that one of the primary roles of an independent judiciary in a democracy -- to make sure that the majority does not "vote away" the rights of the minority?
I think the big question is this: When, in a decade or two from now, people look back at which side of history you stood on, and for how long, will you have a good enough answer?
Dear Supreme Court,
The world is changing.
Don't take my word on this. Google it.
On your new iPad.
Made by a company run by a gay man.
Who could be arrested if he came to India.