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Contextualizing the Closet: Naz, Law, and Sexuality in Postcolonial India

Perverse Politics? Feminism, Anti-Imperialism, Multiplicity

ISBN: 978-1-78635-074-9, eISBN: 978-1-78635-073-2

Publication date: 30 March 2016


The paper uses archival materials, interviews, and secondary scholarship to examine debates among Indian coalitional activists on legal argumentation against India’s national sodomy law in Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT of Delhi in particular, and in their mobilization activities in general. At the heart of activists’ debates was whether “rights to privacy” was the appropriate legal justification with which to argue the unconstitutionality of the sodomy law. Activists warned against uncritically advancing the notion that the sodomy law was an unlawful intrusion into an individual’s privacy, understood in spatial terms as existing within the bounds of a physical home or area, instead highlighting how gender and class shaped queer citizens’ engagements with private space. The paper argues that activists’ critical examinations of private and public space in the Indian context problematize canonical foundations of queer theory and sociological approaches to sexual citizenship, much of which assumes that all queer life moves from an inner sanctum of private secrecy, experienced as shameful, to an outer realm of equality vis-à-vis the state, the public, and the economy through declarative acts of embodiment. Drawing on critical queer studies scholarship, the paper argues that the legal debates in Naz and Indian queer activism reveal the unstated Western liberalism in prevailing scholarship on the promise of law for queer communities in contexts where core differences exist in material and social realities, and, consequently, in the meanings that individuals attach to space, privacy, embodiment, and visibility.




I would like to thank Ann Orloff, Raka Ray, Evren Savcı, Héctor Carrillo, Laura Beth Nielsen, Carol Heimer, Charles Camic, Kevin Levay, Jaimie Morse, and an anonymous reviewer for their detailed comments on various iterations of this project. I would also like to thank my Perversity of Politics co-panelists at the 2013 Social Science History Association Annual Meeting and the individuals I interviewed above for continuously pushing my thinking on the project. Finally, I thank my graduate colleagues in the Professional Writing Seminar, Buffett Institute Graduate Colloquium, and graduate cohort reading group at Northwestern University for providing important feedback on the paper. Research for this paper was supported by a University Fellowship at Northwestern University and a Graduate Summer Research Grant from The Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN).


Balasubramanian, S. (2016), "Contextualizing the Closet: Naz, Law, and Sexuality in Postcolonial India", Perverse Politics? Feminism, Anti-Imperialism, Multiplicity (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 135-158.



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