Published: 24th June 2020
How NLS professor Kunal Ambasta being gay and proud prompted the law varsity to start a queer alliance
What it is like to be gay and a professor in college? Kunal Ambasta, an Assistant Professor at NLSIU tells us of what he did when he was called Gay by his students at the college
When a student came and wrote the word Gay in bold letters on the bulletin board outside Kunal Ambasta's office at the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), he refused to take it down. He says, "I did not take it down because the student's entire point was to get a reaction out of me, which I did not do. Of course, it was problematic because the word was not used as a description but a slur at that point. I was not interested to find out who the student was or punish them."
The impact the incident had was quite the opposite. "Surprisingly, the students in the campus started talking about this incident and the Students' Council rallied intensively against this act. It became a great learning experience for the entire college. The students themselves formed a group called the NLS Queer Alliance and they started giving orientations to the students about the community and ensured that bullying would not happen in the community and so on. There are a lot of activities that are going on right now in the interest of the LGBTQIA+ community."
Kunal, who is an Assistant Professor of Law (Ad-Hoc) at NLSI, came out as gay in 2011 and over a period of time, both family and friends have accepted his sexuality. He explains, "Usually people think or believe that coming out as gay or transgender is an event but I say it is a process. Once you tell the person that you are gay, it doesn't end there. Subsequently, you need to make them understand what it means to be gay, clear their doubts, educate them about sexuality and so on. In my case, I spoke about being gay to my elder brother in 2011. The reaction was simple and sweet where he convinced me that is nothing wrong and volunteered to help convince my mother. Similarly, it took me a year to tell my mother and make her understand there is nothing wrong with being gay. The process went on and everybody in my family got to know about my sexuality. Luckily, my family has been supportive and they never harassed me or misunderstood it as a mental issue."
When we asked him how fellow teachers and students looked at him after they found out, Kunal says, "People have a curiosity about how the relationships work if you are gay, they question you about intercourse and so on. Some times, they try to cross personal boundaries. And such things have happened in the past to me. People just don't know these things and there is a curiosity that develops in their mind. But I give them the benefit of the doubt and try to make them understand why it is wrong to ask such personal questions."
Homosexuality in an artist's imagination (Pic: Rehna Abdul Kareem/ Paper Planes)
Kunal who teaches courses on Jurisprudence and the Law of Evidence as core courses at NLSIU, has not only been associated with the queer community but has been active in reviewing the laws and acts implemented by the government in the past few years. What makes him unhappy is the lack of responsibility taken by the the government in publicising the decriminalisation of Section 377. "When the Supreme Court decriminalised Section 377 in 2018, the judges also told that it must publicise this information in all the direct mediums like radio, television etc. This helps everyone understand the issue and the law. However, even after two years of judgement, the government has done nothing to popularise this. They must also implement children about sexuality at schools so that they are aware of it before they bully someone. In countries like Europe and North America, children get to study all this in their textbooks or they are educated at schools."
Currently, Kunal and his friends in the queer community are also fighting the Transgender Act and for the longstanding demand to make same sex marriage legal. He tells us, "I think the most pressing issue is the Transgender Act 2019. It has been challenged in the Supreme Court. Despite the Supreme Court giving us the right for self-identifying gender, we don't see that reflected in the act. I see it as a danger to our community because we don't know how it is going to be implemented and how many people it might exclude. I also know that there is a petition in the Kerala High Court asking for the approval of same sex marriage. These are the two issues that we will be fighting for but our main focus is the Transgender Act 2019."
This Pride Month we're celebrating diversity in its truest, most leveling form by bringing to you stories of hope and great cheer from the LGBTQIA+ community from across India in our new series Matter of Pride. If you'd like to reach out to any of them or need help, reach out to us WhatsApp at +917358029990