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
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT