TOPIC –  Listening & learning

“A judge wants to understand LGBTQI+ matters and ‘evolve’. Other authority figures must follow his example”

In a welcome subversion of the Uncle Knows Best attitude of most Indians, Justice N Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court declared his intention of undergoing a “psycho-education session” with an expert on LGBTQI+ matters so that he may deliver a better judgement in the case of a same-sex couple seeking protection from their parents. The judge said that he was not sufficiently “woke” on queer issues, so the session would lead to his “evolution”. When was the last time an authority figure decided to listen and learn, instead of preaching their often ill-founded assumptions, especially on questions that challenged the heteronormative status quo? As recently as February, the Centre had cited “societal morality” before the Delhi HC, while seeking dismissal of a clutch of petitions praying for recognition of same-sex marriage. Never mind that queerness has an ancient, socially-sanctioned presence in India and that the “morality” being invoked is of more recent, Victorian vintage. It can’t be denied that there has been some progress on queer issues, but it has been painfully slow and often misguided. Take the Transgender Persons’ (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which dilutes the very thing it seeks to protect. Apparently, it’s not enough that transgender persons self-identify as such; they must have a certificate from the district magistrate to prove it. It is against this discouraging background of top-down actions and empty gestures that Justice Venkatesh accepted his limitations and expressed a desire to outgrow them. Other judges and lawmakers should pay attention. Because his words are a gentle reminder that everyone, even the powers that be, can and must listen and learn, and evolve.