On September 6th, 2018, a five-panel judge of the Supreme Court of India decriminalised Section 377, thereby obliterating the 155-year-old colonial law. At the forefront were Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, who constituted the team of lawyers, which represented the five petitioners. In a recent interview to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, the two attorneys came out as a couple and revealed that last year’s historic judgement wasn’t just a professional win but a personal one too.
Speaking about their journey, Arundhati said, "We had a court where we practiced as lawyers, and this court had just told us that gay people were second class citizens.”
The duo had also argued the case in 2013 when the SC upheld the criminalisation of Section 377 after the Delhi High Court had decriminalised it in 2009. “The loss in 2013 was a loss as lawyers, a loss as citizens. It was a personal loss,” said Menaka. “It’s not nice to be a 'criminal' who has to go back to court as a lawyer to argue other cases,” she added.
Following the judgement in 2018, Menaka and Arundhati were included in TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in 2019. “Arundhati and Menaka have helped take a giant step for LGBTQ+ rights in the world’s largest democracy. In their committed fight for justice, they have shown us that we as a society must continue to make progress, even after laws are changed, and that we must make an effort to understand, accept and love,” wrote actor Priyanka Chopra.
Menaka is a 1997 graduate from National Law School of India University, Bangalore. She read law as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford where she was awarded a DPhil in 2015 and the Gammon Fellowship to pursue the LL.M at Harvard Law School. During the course of her career, Menaka has worked as a human rights activist consultant to the United Nations, assisted the SC as amicus in the Manipur extra-judicial killings case, represented the Azim Premji Foundation in the case of Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan v. Union of India, among others.
Arundhati is a 2005 graduate from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. Subsequently, she went on to pursue an LLM program (1997) at Columbia University after practising at the Indian bar for 11 years. At Columbia University, she was awarded with a Human Rights Fellowship, and was a James Kent Scholar and Public Interest Honoree.
At a time when we’re gearing towards a more inclusive society, Menaka and Arundhati are shining beacon of hope, courage, and perseverance. You can watch the full interview here: