The Supreme Court verdict of December 11th, 2013 set aside the landmark Delhi High Court ruling which said that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, that criminalizes homosexuality in this country, was problematic at its very roots – that it is a blow on the very idea of unity in diversity that the Constitution of the nation upholds; that it is against a person’s basic constitutional right to freedom and equality. Not recognizing same-sex marriages, though why not would be a valid question here, is one thing. Raising eyebrows at public display of affection by same-sex couples, though why would be a valid question here, is one thing. But criminalizing what two consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their rooms with one another, is against the very notion of democracy. The verdict left not only the LGBTIQ+ community, but even others angry and disappointed.
Jawaharlal Nehru University, which has spear-headed many movements of national significance in the past and continues to do so even today, found a beautiful way to celebrate ‘free love’.
From fighting against autocratic forces and establishing the Gender Sensitization Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) and trying to ensure its unbiased functioning, to installing sanitary napkin dispensers on campus, the campus has embraced ‘difference’ and been vocal about issues on gender and sexuality. A couple of large posters by SFI, for example, donning the back wall of the Central Library shows one how JNU has never shied away from doing what is right –
One morning, in the December of 2014, a few unassuming people painted a tree in the colours of the rainbow. They called it The Rainbow Tree. The tree was located centrally – at the busy “T-Point” of the campus, standing tall (but not ‘straight’) as a symbol of Queer Pride and people’s choice to love freely. When the temperatures dropped drastically in the city and the fog descended on its people like a plague, the colours of the tree lent its warmth and brightness to an otherwise cold environment.
Mysteriously, some mornings later, the body of the tree was found violated. Some people, not brave enough to engage in a political debate in broad daylight (because the tree did turn out to be a symbol of a certain kind of politics), had stealthily, taking refuge in the dark covers of the night, performed this act of vandalism – The Rainbow Tree was found stripped of its colours, one grey morning. That is when Gourab Ghosh, a senior PhD scholar at the University and a leading gay-rights activist on campus, decided to paint the campus in the varied hues of the rainbow – openly challenging the miscreants to destroy every symbol of ‘free love’ if they so dared. Collecting funds from shopkeepers in JNU, students, friends and activists of Queer Rights, with the support of members of Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association (JNUTA), JNU Staff Association, Dhanak (a queer group in JNU), student representatives of GSCASH and Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU), Ghosh along with a group of young people, including students and activists from political organizations like AISA, DSU and SFI undertook the mission of colouring the campus in shades that scream of equality, liberty and fraternity. ‘The Rainbow Walk’ as they called it, according to Sumit Dey, a PhD Scholar in the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, was a “response to the intolerant attitude of reactionary, neo-conservative forces that try to undermine and curb diversity”. Singing, dancing and raising slogans against homophobia the group walked around the campus for over five hours, with their bottles of paint and coloured ribbons. The result is for everybody to see.
“The campaign was meant to create awareness about the freedom of choice in general and queer rights in particular”, says Dey and clearly they have left a mark on the campus – literally and metaphorically. Ghosh, who is now in Calcutta for his PhD fieldwork, sends “Rainbow Salaams” to all those who helped him in this venture. “It feels good to see students stopping at T-Point or Central Library and posing against the colours”, says Ghosh. “It feels good to go through all the photographs that these people then post and to spot smiling faces tying colourful ribbons on the trees.”
Different is definitely not dirty.