2022: First Place, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights

The Unhappy Marriage of ‘Queerness’ and ‘Culture’: The Present Implications of Fixating on the Past

by Arti Gupta

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View the edited version, now published in Vol. 48(2) of the Australian Feminist Law Journal.

Winner, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights (2022)


In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India in Navtej Johar v. Union of India, decriminalised consensual same-sex sexual activities by reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. A significant aspect of the Court’s reasoning was that Section 377 was an embodiment of ‘Judeo-Christian’ morality and a colonial imposition. In providing that reasoning, the judgment does not stand alone. For a long time, various revisionist accounts of religious texts and scriptures have been presented to argue that ancient ‘Indian culture’ had been tolerant towards non-normative sex and gender, and ‘homophobia’ was simply a British imposition. Such revisionist arguments had initially been put forth by Indian queer rights groups to nullify the orthodox homophobic attitudes, which rested on the claim that homosexuality is alien to ‘our culture’. However, this article argues that there has been an increasing cooptation of such accounts by dominant Hindu Right groups for their political ends. This article also shows that such reliance on the past (through scriptures or otherwise) to confer legitimacy on the present can have the effect of constraining the radical potentialities of that past. At the end, this article argues for a turn towards the future, which, creating new solidarities, can become a horizon of possibilities.

About the author:

Arti Gupta graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore in 2022, with a degree in B.A. LL.B. (Hons.). At law school, she explored her research interests in queer theory, postcolonial theory, female sexual abuse, and critique of the human rights discourse. This paper was written over a duration of 18 months as three essays for three separate courses. This paper is a combined, expanded and edited version of all three essays. Currently, Arti is practicing as an Advocate at the Supreme Court of India.

Project & Publications Type: Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights, Rapoport Center Working Paper Series