Udai Bhardwaj decriminalized homosexuality in India. Now, he’s coming to Wharton

Bhardwaj and his team of lawyers, all of whom identify as LGBTQIA+, argued successfully to decriminalize homosexuality in the Indian Supreme Court.

Udai Bhardwaj, the Wharton School’s 2022 PRISM Fellowship recipient and incoming student, galvanized a movement in India to decriminalize homosexuality. He and his friends took their fight to the Indian Supreme Court in 2018, and found victory in September later that year.

“When I got to college, I headed our LGBTQIA+ Resource and Support Group,” says Bhardwaj. “My alma mater, which is a chapter of the prestigious India Institute of Technology schools, is located in a remote part of India which is not a liberal place. It was a small school, which was challenging, because when we started there were not many members.”

Udai Bhardwaj and three lawyers smiling in front of the Indian Supreme Court.
Udai Bhardwaj celebrates with his co-petitioners at the Indian Supreme Court on September 6, 2018.

“I felt comfortable with myself and confident in who I am as a person,” he says, “but the law fell behind the times. It was a colonial-era law called Section 377 that always hung over our heads, a looming threat that reminded us that we were second-class citizens. We were always at risk: I constantly heard stories of extortion, like criminals on dating apps who lured young gay men to meetups, then blackmailed them with threats to either expose them publicly or hand them over to the police.”

“Because homosexuality was criminalized, there could be no talk of anything further. Forget gay marriage or adoption—at that time, we couldn’t have any protection from discrimination because our identity itself was illegal. We needed to decriminalize gayness before we could do anything else.”

In India, homosexuality was decriminalized first in 2009 by the Delhi High Court, but then was criminalized again in 2013.

“In 2017, however, the right to privacy was declared as a fundamental right to all Indian citizens,” Bhardwaj says. “For us gay activists, we realized we could argue that private sexual acts between consenting adults is protected under that same right to privacy. … Our team of lawyers argued successfully to get the law repealed in the Supreme Court. The judgment was released on September 6, 2018; and now, the first week of September, Indians celebrate Pride, just as Americans do for the month of June.”

Udai is looking forward to learning more about the implementation of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) practices in the workplace when he joins Wharton this fall.

“One thing I want to study is how to build more inclusive spaces in the workplace, and answer: How do we deal with issues of discrimination at work? It’s what I want to practice when I move to the U.S.” he says.

“I always want to be an ambassador for the community. Having gay role models was something I really needed growing up and I didn’t have. I want to understand DEIA in the workplace better, and I know Wharton can help me better understand how to apply DEIA principles in the workplace.”

This story is by Grace Meredith. Read more at Wharton Stories.