By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India, June 8 (Openly) - An Indian judge who went to a psychologist to tackle his "ignorance and prejudice" about same-sex relationships has been praised for his ruling in a police harassment case that campaigners hope could raise awareness about LGBT+ rights.
Judge Anand Venkatesh, who sits in Madras High Court, ruled this week in favour of a young lesbian couple who had accused police of "harassing questioning" when following up a missing persons report filed by the women's disapproving parents.
In a 107-page judgment that LGBT+ activists hailed as frank and sensitive, Venkatesh describes the personal journey he undertook to confront his own biases and lack of knowledge about gay relationships before giving his ruling.
"I have no hesitation in accepting that I too belong to the majority of commoners who are yet to comprehend homosexuality completely ... I am the society, with all the misconceptions present," he said in the ruling.
"Ignorance is no justification for normalising any form of discrimination," he said, adding that he wanted to educate himself so his ignorance would not interfere with "guiding the LGBTQIA+ community towards social justice".
India's Supreme Court scrapped a colonial-era law criminalising same-sex relations three years ago, but LGBT+ people face widespread discrimination in the socially conservative country.
They are often rejected by their families and denied jobs, with some driven into sex work or begging.
The two women who filed the harassment complaint, both of whom are in their early 20s, left their homes in southern Tamil Nadu state and moved to the city of Chennai because their parents were opposed to their relationship.
"When I first met the girls what shone through was their determination to stay together," said their lawyer, Manuraj Shunmugasundram.
"And what the judgment has done is pulled up society so that it becomes easier for the existing law to be implemented," he added, referring to the 2018 Supreme Court ruling.
At the start of hearings in the case, Venkatesh told the court he was not "fully woke" on the issue and had decided to undergo "psycho-education".
In his ruling, he gives details of his meetings with a psychologist and members of the LGBT+ community, calling them his "gurus".
"The voice of this community is now getting louder and stronger and society can no more turn a deaf ear and a time has come to make that change," he wrote, recommending police and government officials undergo LGBT+ rights awareness training.
He also recommended counselling for parents, gender neutral restrooms in schools and colleges and action against medical practitioners who claim to be able to "cure" homosexuality.
LGBT+ campaigners said Venkatesh's judgment, and willingness to confront his own prejudices, could mark a precedent for similar cases.
"The judgment is like a present for us in Pride Month," said Sunil Menon, founder of LGBT+ support group Sahodaran.
"The key aspect in this practical judgment is that the police should not 'rescue' a person as a first step when parents file a complaint, (but) instead treat them as adults who have free will."
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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