Volume 31 > No 1

What use is poetry? Excavating Tongues of Justice Around Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India

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—Kalpana Kannabiran*

The Supreme Court of India, in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, read down Section 377 Indian Penal Code (‘S. 377’), decriminalizing sexual relations between consenting adults, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity. This marks the culmination of a long struggle for the rights of queer peoples in India and sets up several signposts for a transformative constitutionalism that bear recall. The judicial discourse on the category of “sex” in Johar points us towards pathways to historicise law as a site of cultural production. This essay looks at interpretive strategies, sources,intellectual and constitutional histories that Johar draws upon, as also the intersections and interconnections between this and other (earlier and later) judgments in India on the right to personal liberty exploring in depth the renewed emphasis on the criticality of autonomy, liberty and dignity in Johar. It is argued also that the eclectic approach to decriminalizing homosexuality that we see in Johar – through song, performance, poetry and the outpouring of emotion is testimony to the far-reaching influence of peoples’ movements on courtroom cultures in India.

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