In a country like ours, it’s not easy to say you’re in a same-sex relationship. Despite the historic decision by the Supreme Court to decriminalise Section 377 and make gay sex legal in India, the reality is still depressingly regressive. And so when one of India’s leading sportsperson, Dutee Chand - a professional sprinter, national champion, qualified to play the Summer Olympic Games, medalist at the Asian Games - publicly declares her sexuality, it’s a big deal.
"I am having a relationship with a 19-year-old woman from my village for the past five years"
she said unapologetically, joining a small league of sportspersons in the world who have admitted to being in a same-sex relationship. In India this is rare.
A person’s sexual preference is really no one’s business. But there should be no reason to hide it. Our starry celebrity list has a few men and women who have chosen to be in same-sex relationships - but they are names that are mostly shrouded in rumours and hushed whispers. Why is it that we don’t have more same-sex celebrity couples unafraid to admit who they are, walk hand-in-hand on the red carpet, or post their couple photos on Instagram.
Despite the ruling in September last year, not many prominent persons have stepped out.
The world over the LGBTQ movement has only gathered in strength, making significant progress over the past few years in many parts of the world. Same-sex marriage that began in the Netherlands in 2001, is now legal in 26 countries. Closer home, Taiwan took a big step a
a few days ago, by being the first in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage.
Some of the world’s best-known faces are openly gay. By choosing to liberate themselves, they also set an example both within their communities and around the world. But India still has a long way to go.
Imagine if we had openly gay politicians, cricket players, singers, TV hosts, movie stars… it would go a long way in ensuring acceptance and taking the LGBTQ movement forward. Especially in a country like ours, where mostly homosexuality is mostly not acknowledged, and if it is, it usually faces immense social pressures, stigma and persecution. It is a long and arduous road for gay rights proponents, but with icons like Dutee, hopefully, we will get there sooner.
People all around us face violence and discrimination because of reasons like who they are and who they love. There is no doubt that we need adequate laws and policies in place, to ensure justice and equality for everyone. A big step was taken a few months ago when homosexuality was de-criminalised by the Supreme Court. But that is not enough.
Law has a place, but social mindsets need to change too.
This is where celebrities and role models can make a big difference. Because of tremendous media exposure, they wield enormous soft power, a power that has the ability to change outlooks, and also to change lives. We need more stars in the spotlight to speak out - ‘this is who I am, I am not ashamed, you should not be’. Can you think of the impact if a young cricketer were to say he is in love with another man? But of course, only one is not enough. There must be many more.
Dutee Chand is the first prominent sportsperson to say it. She put it simply, ‘it is our life and we have the right to live it the way we think right’. I hope there are others, from all walks of life. That is how India will change, a little at a time.
(Ekta Kumar is a writer, columnist, artist and works closely with the European Union on gender and civil rights-related issues. The views expressed are her own.)
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine