In 2009, the Delhi High Court decriminalized Section 377 of the penal code, which made same-sex sexual activity illegal. When the decision came down, many believed it was a huge step in a march toward progress in the rapidly changing country.
So the shock was widespread when, just a few years later in 2013, the Supreme Court nullified that decision. As a result, India has the peculiar distinction of being one of the only (if not the only) countries in the world to have decriminalized and then re-criminalized homosexuality.
Though court convictions are real, they are uncommon. Instead, the law provides legal cover for harassment, physical abuse, and a general climate of homophobia and transphobia. What's more, though the law is back on the books, the interstitial years of freedom cannot be erased or forgotten as easily as a rule can be reinstated. For untold numbers of LGBTQ people who thought they were leaping into a sunny future, the reality is very murky.
In July of this year, the Supreme Court resumed hearing arguments in the case against Section 377, and a judgment is due in October. Activists have said they are “cautiously optimistic.” Until then, however, the uncertainty continues.
Through extensive interviews and portraits, this project explores what it’s like to be queer in the present moment in India. And in the age of Trump, Brexit and other dramatic about-faces, this work explores one community’s sudden shift in fortunes, a microcosm of the global tides rewriting our collective sense of progress.
This project is a collaboration with Aarti Singh, for our creative incubator Suno Labs. Work from the project was published in VICE Magazine’s annual Photo Issue, and it has been recognized and supported by the Pulitzer Center, American Photography, the Magenta Foundation and the Robert Giard Foundation.
A public exhibition of the work will be mounted in New Delhi this fall, to coincide with the Indian Supreme Court’s decision on Section 377.