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
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT