Sahiba, Anand Grover’s dog, greets every visitor with a loud bark. “Don’t pay any attention to her. Avoid eye contact. Just keep talking to me,” Grover barks at those who seek the chair on the opposite side of his office table.
Grover’s own presence is far from reassuring. He looms over six feet and has a gruff voice which rises above the dog’s.
But when he starts talking about law, a visitor’s apprehension – of Grover and Sahiba – recede into the background.
“I spelt out anal penetration in the courtroom. The other lawyers were using language such as you put this in that. Where are they living…,” he smiles. “The judges asked Mr Diwan, have you met a gay man?’.”
These discussions took place because Grover is the lawyer for Naz Foundation, which has petitioned the Supreme Court to review a ruling that continues to define homosexual acts as criminal behaviour.
Review pleas close on January 10, a month from the widely-condemned Supreme Court judgment upholding Section 377 and setting aside a liberal 2008 high court ruling which struck down this section. The review pleas may not be decided in a hurry since Justice G S Singhvi, who wrote out the judgment, retired. The chief justice will appoint another judge to form a two-member bench with Justice Sudhansu Mukhopadhya, which can either hear the petitions or refer them to a bigger bench. The judges can also dismiss the pleas, though Grover says he, and his ilk, have made it tough for them to do so.
His plea pivots on the grounds of privacy and discrimination. That the court, in deeming certain kind of sexual activity as illegal, is peeping into people’s bedrooms without any grounds that this activity is harming society.
“Privacy can be intruded on compelling state interest. That argument is not even addressed,” said Grover.
The Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual rights movement rallied together since being delivered a body blow by the SC judgment a month ago. Lawyers associated with the case — Grover, who represented Naz; and Shyam Diwan, who represented Voices Against 377 — consider the judgment flawed.
“This will fall by the wayside,” said Diwan.
Voices Against 377 includes gay members of the legal and other professions who came together to support the Naz plea. The government has also filed a review plea.
Grover’s legal work against discrimination of HIV positive people led to the current struggle. The case of Lucy D’ Souza versus State of Goa in 1989, basis of the film My Brother Nikhil’, saw Grover fighting a ridiculous law applied to Dominic D’Souza, Lucy’s son, imprisoned for being HIV positive.
He recites with relish the story when he first met Dominic. “I reached the hotel room. He was sleeping in my bed. I thought to myself My God, what is this HIV positive person doing in my room’. I have done advocacy all my life. And I was not above prejudice.”
Grover was born in Kenya to Punjabi parents, educated in England as a bio-chemist, and came to India in 1975, plum in the middle of emergency. He gives out these details reluctantly, but gives a huge laugh on hearing my editor is not getting a sense of the man with what has been written so far about him.
“Because, in 1977 you had very good judges such as Justice Krishna Iyer, Justice Chandrachud, I realised there is a future for law because of a written constitution and fundamental rights,” said Grover, who admits to being 60, “roughly”.
HIV-related litigation appealed to the biochemist in Grover. After the Dominic case, he worked on other cases. HIV and homosexuality are not related but health advocates have worried that reaching gay men to give them advice on condoms will be difficult if they are persecuted by law.
“After that, gay men started coming to our office. They told us we are being blackmailed by our families, by the police. Why? Because of 377’,” said Grover.
Grover formed Lawyers Collective in 1981 with his wife, lawyer Indira Jaising, now India’s first woman additional attorney general, to do pro bono cases. The union, devoted to the law, decided not to have any human offspring. “We are selfish with our time. That’s our child,” Grover points to Sahiba. The Lhasa Apso responds to her name by raising her head.
The first petition against 377 by the defunct AIDS Bhed Bhao Andolan, was dismissed and Grover suffered “some ignominy” as the organisation accused Grover of hijacking their agenda. He sought out Naz to fight the case.
Anjali Gopalan, who was working on health-related issues of men having sex with men, agreed to come on-board.
“We are the original petitioners. The kind of hard work and commitment Anand Grover showed… if you see the research that went into the petition. Here is someone who cares,” said Gopalan, executive director of Naz. Meetings with the LGTB community, drawn from all parts of the country, helped hone the petition at every stage.
Grover’s pro bono work, which takes up a chunk of his time, also had him rubbing up against big pharma companies such as Novartis last year where he argued successfully for quashing its patent for an anti-cancer drug.
Reminiscing in his office, Grover displays pride in his work but unhappiness with the state of his profession. “There are lawyers known for their ability to get orders from particular judges. The whole system has gone down,” he said.
His demeanour shows he loves a good fight. “We started the plea (against 377). We will see it through,” he said. Sahiba, who has quietened down, barks and rushes forward to indicate that his and her day are over — even as the battle continues.
- Anand Grover formed Lawyers Collective in 1981 with his wife-lawyer Indira Jaising, now India’s first woman additional attorney general, to take up pro bono cases
- Grover took up the Naz Foundation's legal case for the repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which was a law criminalising homosexuality in India
- Grover’s pro bono work also had him rubbing up against big pharma such as Novartis last year where he argued successfully for quashing its patent for an anti-cancer drug