Skip to main content

One day this week, I became an outlaw

By Tushar Malik
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
An Indian gay-rights activist takes part in a protest Wednesday against the Supreme Court ruling reinstating a ban on gay sex.
An Indian gay-rights activist takes part in a protest Wednesday against the Supreme Court ruling reinstating a ban on gay sex.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tushar Malik: India's high court just made being gay illegal, upholding old colonial law
  • Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling four years ago to legalize homosexuality
  • Malik remembers being hopeful when being gay was made legal; many came out of closet
  • He says, "while India's Supreme Court justices took my freedom, they cannot take my hope"

Editor's note: Tushar Malik is a fellow with the Human Rights Campaign's Global Engagement Program and an advocate for LGBT equality in India and around the globe.

(CNN) -- On Tuesday, I was free. On Wednesday, I became a criminal.

Tuesday, we mourned the loss of President Nelson Mandela -- a leader whose presidency saw the first constitutional prohibition on anti-gay discrimination. On Wednesday, the India Supreme Court denied my freedom as a gay man, upholding a nearly 153-year-old colonial law that could result in my own imprisonment.

Tushar Malik
Tushar Malik

Tuesday, on Human Rights Day, the story of my gay friend fleeing India because his family threatened to kill him went viral. Today, India's highest court has wiped away four years of progress following the Delhi High Court ruling that set me free. Religious groups -- have been fighting to overturn the high court ruling for three years, and have succeeded.

I was 19 when I was set free. And I remember the feeling of hope as I heard the news -- not just that my country was on a new path, but that my life was. I sat down with my family and came out to them. So many of my friends did the same, all across the country.

When I heard the news Wednesday, I wondered about all those people who are living with the burden of hiding, with the fear of harassment and violence. I wondered about those who had come out of the closet over the last four years, and if they, like me, heard in the Supreme Court ruling a clear message to go back in.

India criminalizes gay sex

I will not, much to my mother's distress. I called her upon hearing the news. She wasn't always by my side -- she has a journey of her own over the last four years. But last year she marched in the Gay Pride parade with me. Today, she's worried about her son. "I told you," she said, "it's not that easy."

But I refuse to retreat. With this ruling, according to ILGA, India becomes the 77th country worldwide that views lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as criminals. Just this week, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, spoke out strongly against these laws, saying "To criticize the criminalization of LGBT status is not cultural imperialism. To deny gays and lesbians the right to live freely and to threaten them with discrimination and even death is not a form of moral or religious Puritanism. It's in fact barbarism."

As I write this, I sit in the Human Rights Campaign offices in Washington, D.C., as a fellow with the Global Engagement Program. Upon accepting this fellowship, I knew I would be working to shine a spotlight on this barbarism. But I never imagined my own homeland would take center stage.

We all had hope. Now, our opponents do. On Twitter, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer is cheering the ruling, saying the U.S. Supreme Court should follow India's example. Back in my home country, where the only chance of reversing this decision lies with the Parliament, the conservatives who give passes to anti-LGBT "honor" killings are downright giddy.

But their enthusiasm will only make my voice louder. In President Barack Obama's eulogy at the funeral of Mandela, he said that, "he tells us what is possible not just in the pages of history books, but in our own lives as well. Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals."

While India's Supreme Court justices took my freedom, they cannot take my hope.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tushar Malik.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT