The Supreme Court hearings on the constitutional validity of Section 377 began on July 10, and since then, ten advocates have appeared before the five-judge Constitutional Bench, representing activists, artists, and civil society members demanding the end of Section 377. At the risk of sounding dramatic, what we see now is that the rights of the LGBTQ community lie in the hands of these 10 lawyers. Let’s get to know them.
The former Attorney General of India was recently appointed as “eminent jurist” on a panel that will appoint members of the Lokpal (a central anti-corruption body). In 2015, he was (rather accidentally) the first to argue in the Supreme Court that the Right to Privacy was not, in fact, guaranteed under the Constitution.
He is appearing for petitioner and classical dancer Navtej Singh Johar.
A founding member of Lawyers Collective, Grover was among the group of lawyers who tried their best to delay the execution of Yakub Memon, who was suspected to be involved in the 1993 Bombay bombings. His legal activism on HIV-related cases began in the late 80s, and he was the lawyer who won the Delhi High Court case against Section 377 in 2009.
In these hearings, he is appearing for activists Arif Jafar and Ashok Row Kavi, as well as Naz Foundation (who filed the first petition in 2001).
The prominent Madras High Court advocate had his beginnings as a tax lawyer and is now one of the biggest names in corporate law. He has published articles, books on Central Excise, and edited an important compendium on the Companies Act. He has been a strong voice against the way the GST was being rolled out, all at once rather than in phases. Datar has also opposed foreign lawyers coming into India to practice.
Datar is appearing for Keshav Suri, head of The Lalit group of hotels, and an openly gay figure.
The first Indian to have her portrait displayed at the the Rhodes House, Oxford University, Guruswamy has said “[her] heart is in constitutional law”. he Harvard graduate has also been a Human Rights Consultant for the UN. She has fought a PIL case (filed by Cabinet minister T. S. R. Subramaniam) on the Right to Education, defending the provision that all private schools should take in disadvantaged children. Guruswamy has also fought a case against the Salwa Judum, the state-sponsored militia in Chattisgarh. In 2016, the Supreme Court appointed her amicus curiae in a case concerning fake encounters and extra-judicial killings in Manipur.
She is appearing for IIT students, graduates and alumni.
Singh has also responded to foreign lawyers practising in India, saying the Advocates’ Act must firmly regulate any in-flow. With respect to Section 377, the senior advocate said striking down the law was not enough. What was needed was a declaration against orientation-based discrimination. Singh also brought up affirmative action, as a measure used to mainstream marginalised communities.
He is appearing on an intervention application.
A founding member of the Centre for Law and Policy Research in Bangalore, Kothari’s practice has been around the Right to Education, health and housing, gender, disability rights, and environmental law. She has also written a book about disability law in India. Earlier this year, Kothari appeared for the Bengaluru based Child Rights Trust in a case to make the laws against child marriage stronger.
She is appearing for noted trans rights activist Akkai Padmashali.
He has raised the fact that Section 377 denies the LGBTQ community the freedom of expression granted to them by the Indian Constitution.
He is appearing for academicians from Central Universities based in Delhi.
Divan’s gig is mainly civil litigation across banking, securities law, arbitration, administrative law and environmental law. In January this year, the Supreme Court advocate made strong arguments against the Aadhar card. He has said it “seeks to tether every resident of India to an electronic leash.” In a case against illegal iron ore mining in Karnataka, he was appointed amicus curiae.
He is appearing on behalf of intervenors Voices Against 377.
Following the vicious misuse of Section 66A of the IT Act, when Shreya Singhal filed a case which would become one of India’s biggest free-speech judgments, and Kirpal was among the team of lawyers that made it happen.
Kirpal is also appearing for Navtej Singh Johar.
Active during the Emergency, Desai was chief consultant in the finance ministry in 1991-93, and Attorney General of India between 1996 and 1998. When theatre actor and playwright Vijay Tendulkar was banned from staging his play “Sakharam Binder”, Desai worked with a team of lawyers to get a stay. The eminent lawyer has been praised by former President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman (before whom Desai argued that Section 377 has “created utter chaos”).
He has been Legal Correspondent at Times of India.