On October 17, the Supreme Court declared its stance against the Marriage Equality Rights petition in a 3-2 split. This verdict came after months of activism surrounding the petition as well as hopeful anticipation of members of the queer community in India for positive change. It seemed like it was likely to happen. Not only did the judgement open on a positive note, it felt more likely as just next door, Nepal, too had declared same-sex marriage de jure legal in June 2023, although without legislation.
What ultimately followed was a week of disappointment. W, a 24-year-old consultant says that he was taken aback. “Although I mentally prepared myself for the worst, there was this tiny bit of hope from the highest court and the Chief Justice who always seemed to be an ally to the queer community. The way this hearing was live-streamed for the world to see, it almost seemed like a run-up to one of the most historic verdicts in recent times,” he adds.
Z, a 22-year-old from Indore, tells me how any hope the judgement began with was crushed, despite her not being a very strong believer in the institution of marriage as it stands today. “I felt a mix of disappointment, a little hope, and a lot of dehumanisation. It was like nobody cares about this and that led me to feel invisible, almost.”
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At such a time, for some, like Reetika, a 24-year-old writer from Gurugram, the collective fight on the internet is comforting. This is especially interesting as activism in the modern age has taken on a unique form. While streets are still littered with individuals voicing demands for change, social media too has become a space of learning and knowledge-sharing; members of communities not duly recognised by the state have the internet where communities and forums allow them to feel not-so invisible.
“The online community is a window for peace when you know your actual reality differs,” says Reetika.
For W, the online space was the only way to really be in touch with his true personality. “I came out on Twitter during the lockdown and made numerous connections there. I am also in a lot of queer connect groups on WhatsApp where we went through the entire process of hearings and then awaiting the verdict for four long months and then the D-day.”
It isn’t surprising then to see how many flock to the internet to feel seen and heard when they feel especially invisibilised during moments like the one last week. An example of the brightest ray of hope is the now-viral post on the app X (formerly Twitter) of two marriage equality activists exchanging rings in front of the Supreme Court to give a new meaning to what was to them an awful day otherwise.
Z recalls how the photo was the first thing she saw on the Internet the day after the judgement, and what it meant to her: “I can’t explain the flood of emotions I felt when I saw that photo. It gave me hope that no piece of legislation can take the love away,” Z adds.
And while, as is the case with the internet, the post encountered hate-mongering responses, the positivity was hard to quell. “There were hate comments, obviously. But then I saw people responding and countering the hate and the internet immediately felt like a safe space for me.”
As for what’s next for marriage equality rights in India, the community appears to be divided across the spectrum of feeling tired from the lead-up over the last few months and also feeling renewed hope from some speckles of validation in the judgement.
W notes how, while he found a sense of community online, the friendships would have probably deepened with a positive judgement. “Celebrating together would’ve been amazing. Many people have already lost hope of a future in this country.”
W adds how many people he is surrounded by are not feeling as hopeful or able to find silver linings to the judgement. For him, the focus is instead to prioritise financial stability to be able to live as who he is, freely.
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Yet others, like Z, are trying to find levity in the hard moments, before planning what’s next. “Instagram and Twitter have helped me cope with the judgement. Initially, I was angry, but then everyone got so exhausted with being angry that they started making memes.”
Z further adds how when she got exhausted from trying to engage in the discourse online, consuming memes and jokes brought her a solitary sense of joy: “You can be angry and also laugh together later. I think there’s beauty in that.”
Delhi-based Nona Uppal writes on love and relationships. She is on Instagram @nonauppal