Keshav Suri used his name and fame to empower the LGBTQ community, provide employment, and fight for their rights by petitioning against Section 377 earlier this year. He speaks to Guardian 20 about the new avenues that have opened up in the aftermath of Supreme Court’s historic judgment that decriminalised homosexuality in September this year.
Q. Did you have tears of joy when the Supreme Court struck down Section 377?
A. I had a bunch of emotions. They ranged from tears of joy, to excitement, to wanting to summersault, to go up there and asking the judges to give them a peck on the cheek, but of course I could do none of it. So, I had to just internalise everything and then go outside. I was not only happy and emotional but I was nodding my head in agreement to what the judges were saying. It was like “finally”!
Q. Didn’t you feel that you were fighting for something which should have been given to you as a right long ago?
A. I have said this to media houses and to family and friends that I cannot believe that in 2018 we are having this conversation when the rest of the world has moved on to marriage and equality for the LGBTQ community. Decriminalisation happened in the rest of world long ago. I cannot believe that the Indian psychiatric society in 2018 termed this as a mental disease. But at the same time I am like, “Thank god, it happened.” So, a lot of my rage and anger was channelised into what I have done to help in this situation. My rage exploded in 2013 when the SC overturned the High Court decision and said “Who are these LGBTQ people, they do not exist in India, they are unicorns”. So that’s when I actually started my work, my team rallied them [the LGBTQ people] up. I started hiring people from the transgender community and then it became like a bulldozing effect, like I am not going to stop because I wanted them [the SC] to know that we do exist.
Q. What about the acceptance of the judgment by our society?
A. See, phobia exists. Homophobia exists even in countries where gay marriages have happened. You remember the Orlando nightclub shooting? What the judgment is going to do is that it is going to tell people that the courts are on our side. The courts have apologised to the LGBTQ community for the years of subjugation and wrongdoing. One of the justices has said that we need to sensitise the police, the government and it is going to take a while. We need to sensitise education. They have asked and requested the media to print the judgment and make it go viral in different vernaculars, so that it reaches homes. That is the first step of sensitisation. Can we eradicate phobias? No, but we can try. We can bring people to the table. Corporate firms can really step up, like us [Suri is part of the Lalit group]. Now you see corporate firms posting rainbow flags and all, great, but they need to go to the nitty-gritty, they need to hire people from the trans community. They need to stop the stigmatisation of the LGBTQ. They need to align with NGOs and help them. Get this normalisation to happen, corporates can really do that. Representation in politics. We need someone in Parliament. Representation is very important. Bollywood needs to step up. Though I know that there are movies like Aligarh and Kapoor and Sons, but Bollywood for so many years has stereotyped this community so badly, that it will take many Aligarhs to actually remove those awful stereotypes. It will be nice if they start hiring trans actors and actresses and put them in a beautiful light.
Q. You had filed a written petition against Section 377 earlier this year, two years after the original five petitioners. What took you so long?
A. I have been thinking about this since 2013. Between 2013-2018, when I filed my petition, I did not want to be one of those people, who said, “Oh look, I have filed a petition and that’s it.” I wanted to make a change in my own company. I wanted to hire people, give medical insurances. Create safe space, join the UN, I wanted a lot to happen first and have backing that is good for business. The power of pink economy across the world is too hard to ignore. The cost of homophobia is too big to ignore. I wanted to have enough of my own case studies in my own company. That’s why I took a while.
Q. Are you happy with what the privileged class of the LGBTQ community is doing for the under-privileged?
A. I don’t want to comment on other people. I just want to comment on what I am doing. What I do want to say is not about individual people but I do want corporates and multi-nationals to step up. I want corporates in India to start hiring LGBTQ people, have meritocracy, have representation.