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SC picking Kirpal for HC is huge, say gay rights activists

The Supreme Court collegium's recommendation of advocate Saurabh Kirpal for the Delhi High Court means India could get its first openly gay judge soon

Saurabh Kirpal was one of the lawyers who argued the case that led to the reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2018.
Saurabh Kirpal was one of the lawyers who argued the case that led to the reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2018.

New Delhi, Nov 16 (PTI) The possibility that India could get its first gay judge with the Supreme Court collegium approving the name of Saurabh Kirpal for the Delhi High Court was widely welcomed on Tuesday, some in the LGBTQ community terming it historic and others describing it as a harbinger of an “unbiased India”.

The senior advocate moved a significant step towards becoming a Delhi High Court judge with the collegium, headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, recommending his name, a decision deferred multiple times since 2018 for what many speculated was because of his sexual orientation.

Recommendations are sent to the Centre for approval. It can send it back to the collegium. However, if the name is sent back, the Centre has no option but to approve it.

The news of the likely elevation of 49-year-old Kirpal, who has spoken candidly about his gay status, was met with an emotive response from those in the gay community and also from celebrities, rights activists and others on social media and elsewhere.

Also Read: Why LGBTQ+ Indians deserve the right to marry

For author Sharif D Rangnekar, a friend of Kirpal, this recommendation is "incredibly huge" and will "inspire and motivate many people" in the community to live a dignified life.

"I can't tell you how happy I am to get this news. It’s Saurabh Kirpal's achievement definitely, all credit to him, but we are living in a community where there are so few people who are holding certain position or posts that carry a certain kind of influence, that today this is something we would want to own as well," Rangnekar, a former journalist and author of Straight to Normal: My Life as a Gay Man, told PTI.  

"Saurabh could have chosen to sign off from India and gone to another country, and got more dignity. But he hung on here, he has not buckled under any pressure .. You never know how many more lawyers will now come out as queer, and not feel discriminated. It is indeed a historic moment for the community," he added.

Son of former chief justice of India Bhupinder Nath Kirpal, Kirpal read law at the University of Oxford and did his Master of Law at the University of Cambridge and returned to India following a brief stint at the United Nations in Geneva.

Kirpal, who has been practising at the apex court for over two decades, was also the counsel for Navtej Johar, Ritu Dalmia and others in the celebrated case that led to the reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2018 and decriminalizing gay sex.

Delhi-based transgender female Naaz Joshi, who said she has often faced "hatred" from people despite winning multiple beauty pageants for the country, is hoping Kirpal's likely appointment as a Delhi High Court judge will set an example for an "unbiased India".

"A trans achiever is not considered an achiever in India. In corporates, I have experienced that people intentionally do not give raise to people from our community. Mr Kripal's achievement shall set an example of an unbiased India.

“Moreover, a member of LGBTQ community in judiciary system can benefit our community. We can expect him fighting for our rights and legalising same-sex marriage in India which is need of the hour," she said.

Several others also aired their views on social media.

"This is really heartening. If this happens India will join the league of EU and Canada. This actually showcases the pluralism and multiculturalism in India," said Kingshuk Banerjea.

"We were taught in law school that lawyers are social engineers. By the elevation of Saurabh Kirpal, the message of inclusion & plurality will percolate in the judicial circles & ultimately in the society. This will be a masterpiece of social engineering!" tweeted Kaustubh Mehta.

But with great power comes great responsibility, and Rangnekar said it would be that much more difficult for his friend as he “has to carry the burden of being the first gay judge".

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"The judiciary itself is male-run largely and by typical masculine thing. We are only seeing some amount of sensitivity of late ... So it is going to be quite tough for Saurabh, he'll be compelled one way or the other to carry the burden of the whole community because there aren't enough," he said  

The Supreme Collegium’s recommendation comes nearly three years after it first considered Kirpal’s candidature in 2018. This was after the Delhi HC collegium -- then headed by acting chief justice Gita Mittal -- recommended his name to be appointed as a judge in October 2017. 

The proposal was then approved by the apex court’s collegium too.

The Centre, however, raised objections against his recommendation.

“The Supreme Court collegium in its meeting held on November 11, 2021, has approved the proposal for elevation of Saurabh Kirpal, advocate, as a judge in the Delhi High Court,” a statement said on Monday.

According to the statements, the collegium has also approved the proposal for the elevation of judicial officer B S Bhanumathi and advocate K Manmadha Rao as judges of the Andhra Pradesh High Court.

Besides the CJI, Justices U U Lalit and A M Khanwilkar are part of the three-member collegium which deals with the appointment and transfer of judges in high courts. PTI MG MIN MIN

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