New Delhi, May 1 (IANS) There was a time when Ritu Dalmia did not know how to define the feeling of being attracted to the same gender. Today, the celebrity chef has not only come to terms with her sexuality but is fighting to decriminalise consensual gay sex.
Dalmia, a food entrepreneur who has a string of restaurants under the brand name "Diva", says being gay is not a crime, but using the law to make it one adds to the trauma that a homosexual already goes through in the country.
Dalmia is pitching for freedom to find love and being true to one's sexuality. She, along with Navtej Johar, Sunil Mehra, Ayesha Kapur and Aman Nath, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the legal validity of Section 377.
"I do not think this (homophobia) is a problem only in India. Homophobia exists everywhere, but at least in most of the other countries, the law is on their side. It is deeply upsetting to hear everyday stories of rapes, and many other horrible things the community goes through. To think even the law indirectly supports it... is absolutely heartbreaking," Dalmia told IANS in an email interview.
"When the 2009 Delhi High Court judgement came, so many people came out of the closet. And with the 2013 (Supreme Court) judgement, it was like taking 10 steps back. A gay person already goes through a lot of trauma to come to terms with their sexuality, and when they hear that it is also criminal, this trauma just gets accelerated."
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises any sort of homosexual activity and other forms of unnatural sex -- affecting the rights of LGBTs (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders). In 2009, the Delhi High Court had ruled that Section 377 was unconstitutional. But in December 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict.
Now, the top court will in May hear the fresh plea seeking to strike down the act.
Dalmia hopes for a positive change.
"At this moment, I feel very, very positive. It has been a long journey but I think one sees a light at the end of tunnel," she said, adding that the long fight has been very frustrating.
What is the change she is hoping for?
"Changing mindsets is a slow process, but it will happen and there are a lot of countries, conservative countries, where one has seen this change happen over a period of time.
"In India, it will take longer because we have not even crossed the first hurdle, which is to legalise it, and who knows... maybe I will witness this change happen in my lifetime."
Of her own story, Dalmia comes from a traditional Marwari family. She couldn't define her sexual preference, but finally discovered it in her mid 20s.
"When I look back at my life, I was attracted to women, but did not know how to define that feeling... For me, when I fell in love, it was very clear to me that I did not want to hide the person I was in love with.
"I was proud of what we had, and it was important to me that my family and friends knew her and accepted her as my soul mate."
Dalmia continued: "I was very lucky that I had a lot of support from my friends and family, and it makes it so much easier. As I said, one goes through an inner turmoil, a lot of confusion and inability to understand what is going on, and when there is support from friends and family, you know that you are not a 'freak'."
(Sugandha Rawal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)