The historic judicial decision to decriminalize the anachronistic Article 377 of the Constitution of India has ushered in a new era of hope for millions of Indians. While celebrating their hard-fought victory, the movement - and its liberal supporters - are also thankful to those who waged some of the bravest battles against the social and administrative system without losing hope. Celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia figures foremost in that list of people. After the Supreme Court overturned the favourable judgment of the Delhi High Court in 2013, she has through sheer grit and determination pursued their cause and persevered with her faith in the justness of the country's judicial system.
In an email interview to Lekshmi Parameswaran of South Asia Monitor, she speaks about her journey and how she overcame trials and tribulations to be vindicated by the highest court in her stand that "loving a person of same sex is not a crime and in fact very normal".
Q. Congratulations on the legal vindication of LGBT rights by the Supreme Court. As someone who has been on the forefront of this fight, what does the decriminalization of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code mean to you at a deeply personal level?
A. I think for me most important is that my faith has been restored that our country is still a functioning democracy and no one in above the constitution . everything I have done so far in my life has been for very selfish reasons, for work, for money for fame, for family and friends. It was a step first time that I took on something which seemed like a lost case, something which may not see an end, and that there was nothing to be gained and I have to admit today I can understand why people take up causes, because the satisfaction of doing your bit and giving back to the society is immense, and there is really no greater joy than that
Q. Starting from 2013 when the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Delhi High Court, the fight that you waged on along with many others had been fraught with multiple challenges. How did you deal with the moments of despair?
A. When the Supreme Court ruling came out in 2013, my first reaction was anger.. an overwhelming sense of anger and disbelief. In 2009 a lot of people came out of the closet, and suddenly I was seeing a lot of same sex couples in the restaurants without feeling awkward or afraid. 2013 changed everything, people started moving out, many went back in the closet. When I filed teh case, I have to admit I was not very hopeful that this change will happen in my life time, but as they say life is full of surprises.
Q. It was indeed a brave decision for you to come out in 2013 at a time when the law was against the LGBT community. What gave you the strength to do what you did and become one of the strongest voices for the marginalized in the country?
A. I was never in the closet, but yes I am not the sort of person who goes around announcing who I like to sleep with. I am chef and I want to be known for my skills and not my sexual preference. My family and my friends knew about my sexuality long before, and yes it was a very difficult decision to make my sexual preference public. My mother got many calls from far off relatives and acquaintances curious about her daughter. I was trolled send dirty messages, but looking back it was worth it.
Q. It might perhaps take a lot more than the court's decision to change the mindset of a conservative society as India's and for real acceptance to come by. When do you see that happening?
A. If you look at any country where gay rights were given by law it still took a long time before the social perceptions were changed, the court order is only the first step, a very important step and foundation for what lies ahead- education education education. If you read the judgement, Justice Nariman has requested the judgement to be publicized all over the country so people are made aware that loving a person of same sex is not a crime and in fact very normal.
Q. Are you hopeful of India granting marriage rights to the LGBT community like many countries in the Western world?
A. I think we all need to take a pause right now, and enjoy what has been achieved.
Q. What are your dreams for an India of the future?
A. More tolerance and a secular country that we are meant to be.
Q. Were these any celebrations of this victory in your iconic Diva restaurant chain? What plans of expansion and diversity on your restaurant front?
A. My restaurant Cittamani in Milan created a drink called “Goodbye 377” on 6th of September, and we had a small private celebration with the petitioner and the lawyers at Diva (her restaurant chain).