Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced in 1860 by the British, says, "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for 10 years or life and shall also be liable to fine."
Since then, hundreds of queer people have been arrested, blackmailed and sexually exploited using Section 377.
But now, India's queer population has risen from invisibility, to march the streets of India. They have gone to court, asking for consensual same sex relations between adults to be made legal, reminding the judiciary that Section 377 is a Victorian hand-me-down, that India has been tolerant of same sex love for centuries.
Now all eyes are on the Indian Judiciary System to see if this law can be read down - whether homosexuals in India can live their lives as free citizens with rights without being criminialised for the people they love.
Aditya Bandhopadhyay knows what it is like to be on the other side of the law. In 2001 he went to Lucknow to represent an NGO that was raided by the police for allegedly running a gay club.
He was followed, threatened and verbally abused for taking the case. Himself openly gay for years, he was an easy target.
“Cops would threaten me and call me names. At one point they raided a cyber café I was using. And it’s only because I had stepped out that I was safe. And I was a lawyer trying to defend a case. And the police wouldn't allow me,” he says.
Since “unnatural” sex is a cognizable offence, a policeman can book you, based on just suspicion.
Sunil Gupta, a photographer who is open about his sexuality, was picked up and assaulted by the police for just being in a park with his friend.
“In the 60s, I walked into a police trap. I went with a friend to a particular location that was used for sex and we were casually in the area and the cops turned up and accused us of having sex. They decided to pick on me. I was unprepared and didn't know how to handle the situation so they beat me up and then moved on to blackmailing me. So I had to give them some thing and there wasn't any one I couldn't tell in those days. And this is after nothing had happened between me and my friend. The way the law is written they can catch you even if they are suspicious,” he says.
Thirty-nine-year old Varun Narrain - a puppeteer by profession - says the law has left gay people extremely vulnerable.
Ever since he realised he was gay, he's had to live a conditioned life. Like queer people across India, he too has a dream – a time when he doesn't have to worry about being seen out with the man he loves.
“It will make my life different because it will give me the chance to experience freedom because all this while it’s been very stifling. On another level it will be nice to take the man of my dreams to a bar and not have the bouncers throw us out because we're guys and most importantly, if I am being abused I can go to cops without being criminalised,” he says.
Ravi and Amit have been together for 10 years now. Ravi is a writer and Amit, a lawyer. It really is nothing short of a marriage, but ironically they have no rights over each other.
The law simply doesn't recognise them as a couple - they can't share a bank balance, they can't even own property jointly. And they haven't come out to their parents, making it even tougher.
“We shouldn’t be held responsible for being in love and shouldn’t be penalised by the law because we are of the same sex,” says Ravi.
Several queer couples feel the same. Amrit is a business developer for a fashion house. His partner didn't come on camera as he is still a closet gay. But their relationship has spanned over six years. They call their dogs, Ali and Munmun, their children.
“I've been with my partner for six-and-a-half years and when we want to open a bank account or some thing we can’t have each other as nominees, we cant show our relationships on visas, that's a problem, there's notning in the law to safeguard us. Tomorrow if any thing happens to either of us, our families will just rush in and take everything. There will be nothing for the other person,” he says.
The problem is that Section 377 is used to cover child abuse, paedophilia and forced sodomy - there are no separate laws for these offences.
Activists say all that's needed - is to remove consensual gay sex from the purview of the law.
But for many, this would mean letting India into a permissive new world - which they are not ready to allow.
From being mocked to being ridiculed, from being assaulted to being blackmailed - it isnt easy being queer in India. But through it all - these are men and women who have lived with pride, this life they have chosen - and will continue to do so - in the years and generations ahead.
At the end of the day - they don’t need anyone's approval or permission to love.