Madras HC Directs State to Stop Police Harassment of LGBTQIA+ People

The court also remarked on insensitive media coverage in issues dealing with the community and issued directions and issued directions to change "queerphobic" language in medical textbooks.

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New Delhi: The Madras high court on Tuesday issued a number of directions aimed at protecting members of the LGBTQIA+ community from police harassment and insensitive reportage by the media, LiveLaw reported.

These directions were issued by Justice Anand Venkatesh while hearing a writ petition filed by a lesbian couple seeking protection from police harassment. 

The judge remarked that he was “appalled” at learning that police officers in the state were refusing to offer protection to same sex couples and, in some instances, even harassed them despite the fact that he had passed a court order and issued guidelines to ensure that they aren’t harassed by the police.

Justice Venkatesh’s earlier guidelines had been issued on June 7 of this year in order to ensure that same sex couples are not harassed when the police respond to missing persons complaints filed by their parents.

The judge opined that the police’s behaviour in this regard stems from a sheer lack of awareness and apathy towards the cause of the LGBTQIA+ community. He further noted that, “What has been built by the State as a source of protection to the public cannot become the end from which they need protection.”

Pursuant to this, the court ordered that a specific clause be added to the Police Conduct Rules which says harassment by the police of a member of the LGBTQIA+ community – or activists and NGO workers – would be treated as misconduct and punished as such. Further, the court directed that sensitisation programmes for police personnel must be conducted by members of the LGBTQIA+ community or by activists or NGO workers involved in their cause.

Addressing Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram, the court asked the state to ensure that police officers extend protection to same sex couples more proactively and also to work towards the “recognition and development” of members of the community, the Hindu reported.

With reference to this, Justice Venkatesh remarked, “”[The] state of Tamil Nadu is always known for introducing reforms in the interest of persons belonging to the marginalized communities and sects and therefore, this State must be a role model to create a favourable atmosphere to persons belonging to the LGBTQIA+ Community.”

During the hearing, the court also pulled up the media for its reportage on issues involving the LGBTQIA+ community. Justice Venkatesh noted the “deeply problematic” nature of the reportage which doesn’t only reflect, but also perpetuates the stigmatisation which members of the community face. 

Justice Venkatesh went on to note that “queerphobic” language must no longer be used and that sensitive and inclusive terms on the gender spectrum must be used in reporting. However, this advice did not come as enforceable directions since the judge did not want to infringe upon the freedom of the press. He instead emphasised the need for media houses to exercise self-restraint.

Finally, the court also made observations regarding the homophobic nature of medical literature that is part of the curriculum in MBBS courses in the country.

Justice Venkatesh asked the state to ensure that “conversion therapies” are not permitted in any manner and went on to cite an instance where a doctor prescribed antidepressants and erectile dysfunction medications, as well as recommending cognitive behavioural therapy for a man’s gender identity. The judge remarked that such prescriptions are, “nothing but conversion ‘therapy’, camouflaged as medical and mental health support.”

Thus, the court issued notice to the National Medical Commission and the Indian Psychiatric Society, directing them to file a report on how they plan to carry out the necessary changes in the curriculum.

The court adjourned the hearing, listing the matter to be heard further on October 4 to record further compliance.