It was in the verdant environment of Bengaluru's Cubbon Park where members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community hosted a special get-together on February 1 (Monday).
The event, where the community members shared their personal stories, was significant as it was held just a day ahead of the Supreme Court's hearing on a curative petition to decriminalise homosexuality in the country on February 2 (Tuesday).
Along with the community members, the media and general public are eagerly waiting to see if the apex court would strike down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalises gay sex.
The get-together titled Marmara (Mara in Kannada means tree and Marmara stands for murmuring under trees), saw members of sexual minorities speaking vociferously against Section 377 of the IPC. The community members say that unless and until gay sex between two consenting adults is not decriminalised, violence and persecution of sexual minorities would continue.
Cubbon Park proved to be the perfect place to host Marmara, as under the shade of large number of trees, community members freely spoke about their concerns and demands.
"In the wake of the curative petition on Section 377 of the IPC to be heard by the Supreme Court tomorrow, we have decided to come together and share our stories. Because of the archaic Section 377 of the IPC, our community members face violence and discrimination on a daily basis. In spite of all odds, the LGBT community is fighting various battles with great bravery," said Rajesh Umadivi, organiser of the event.
Marmara was conceptualized by Corinne Kumar, a women's rights activist and founder member of NGO Vimochana, during the general election of 2014.
Till date, around 40 Marmara events were organized. The topic for these events ranged from violence against women to child rights. But every time, the discussion surrounds around the marginalized section of society.
"The idea is to give voice to the voiceless. A large section of our society has no right. We want them to get their rights. We talk about the issues of minorities by bringing them under one roof. We share each other's pain and struggle. We talk and discuss to empower people. Words have great power to challenge the system mostly ruled by the dominant classes," said Corinne.
People from various corners of Karnataka like Bengaluru, Kolar, Hassan, Bijapur and Chikkaballapur talked about what it means to be a sexual minority in India. Participants were seen holding banners in English and Kannada, demanding "equal rights" and "scrapping of 377".
Kiran Naik, an activist, who himself is physically challenged and a transgender, said, "Members of the LGBT community are harassed by police on a daily basis in Karnataka. Moreover, we face violence everywhere. Be it our homes or outside it, we are not safe. We are treated like criminals."
Sharada BN, founder of Sangama, an NGO which works with sexual minorities, said that decriminalisation of gay sex would reduce violence against the community. "The community needs both social and political support to live a dignified life," added Sharada.
Noted Kannada author S Vasudhendra, who attended the event, read few paragraphs from his hugely popular book, Mohanaswamy. The book is the first collection of gay short stories in Kannada. Few participants also read poems on rights, wishes and struggles of sexual minorities.
It was a watershed moment for the LGBT community in the country, when the Delhi High Court legalised gay sex among consenting adults in 2009. The court held that the law making it a criminal offence violates right of privacy, personal liberty and equality.
The judgment was hailed by members of sexual minorities and their supporters. Activities working for the rights of sexual minorities observe that the judgment brought positive changes in the lives of the community as fear of being criminals no longer existed.
However, the euphoria did not exist long as the Supreme Court struck down the historic Delhi HC verdict in 2013. It came as a huge blow to gay rights in the country. The SC also noted that the onus is on Parliament to look into the desirability of deleting Section 377 of the IPC.
Section 377 is a British pre-colonial era law that bans carnal intercourse against the order of nature. Conviction carries a fine and a maximum10-year jail sentence.