When Aamir Khan waved a rainbow-coloured flag on Satyamev Jayate on October 19, it was a moment of (more than just gay) pride for India. Sure, we’re not huge fans of Mr. Khan’s over-the-top manner of delivering empowerment or educating the masses, but no one’s tread this kind of ground before and we respect him for that. Given his star status, far more people are inclined to take him at his word and he’s definitely brought sensitive social issues like female foeticide, corruption, and honour killings, to name a few, to light too. However, his recent episode that discussed LGBT rights and Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, has been met with more small-mindedness than anyone could have anticipated.
A Chandigarh-based advocate, Mandeep Kaur, has issued notice to the Bollywood actor on a petition that alleges he ‘promoted homosexuality’ on his show and as such, is in violation of the Supreme Court’s ludicrous (yes, we have to say it every single time) Section 377. The lady in question had actually demanded an unconditional apology 24 hours after the show aired but (surprise, surprise) didn’t get a response. Apparently, when a superstar with a packed schedule doesn’t give in to your every whim and fancy, the next best way to get his attention is a petition, to which she’s seeking his response by December 19.
And all this, just one week after 377 was slapped on a Bangalore techie by his wife after she caught his ‘gay acts on a spycam.’ Seriously, this better not be valid evidence in a court of law. The story does beg a little sympathy for the woman considering she was misled and all, but there are a million other laws she could use to go after her husband and his family.
Back to the petition at hand, however. As if it isn’t bad enough that the law exists at all, now we’re going to go after people’s right to free speech about the issue too? Miss Kaur claims that Khan’s actions were in contempt of the court because he asked his audience to vote for amendments to section 377, plus promoted a criminal offence and hence, deserves the court’s intervention but a lawyer we spoke to doesn’t think she has much of a case.
“Under the Indian Penal Code, unnatural sex is a crime and it’s also a crime to aid and abet any crime. In fact, the person aiding the crime can be deemed equally guilty. This applies across the board,” says Aaron Solomon, Partner at Solomon & Co. “However, in this case, simply talking about and debating the issue on a public platform does not amount to aiding or abetting a criminal act. Freedom of Speech and Expression is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution of India – and Aamir Khan’s waving of a rainbow-coloured flag on Satyamev Jayate on October 19 is his exercise of his right to freedom of speech expression. Unless there is proof that Aamir Khan aided and abetted an act of ‘unnatural sex’ as such, there cannot be a valid case against him for simply exercising his fundamental right of free speech and expression.”
Moreover, Solomon added that “There’s always a balance between freedom of speech and a change in the law. After all, laws have only ever been changed when people are allowed to speak about it so it’s absolutely within our constitutional rights to do so as long as it is in a constructive way.”
Despite this being a relief, we still hope this is just a case of Miss Kaur having watched too many Aamir Khan films and hence believing that this is a great, albeit extremely convoluted way of getting the star’s attention. Because it sure beats the alternative that there isn’t a safe space left in this country to even verbally rally against the injustices that won’t allow an entire community of people to freely express their sexual identity. More importantly still, it’s become clear that the criminalization of this community has left both them, and their supporters, extremely vulnerable at the hands of individuals like Miss Kaur.
Words: Mandovi Menon.
[Read our article on 9 Progressive International Laws India Could Do With Implementing]