Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, one of the world’s oldest positive laws, dating back to 1861, and introduced during the British rule in India, criminalizes some sexual activities as "against the order of nature", including homosexual activities. Now, India’s Supreme Court is deciding about decriminalization of consensual homosexual sex after a cluster of LGBT people petitioned the court. It is expected that the court will reach the verdict in a few weeks and LGBT people in India are expecting the decision which will promote equal rights for them.
Before the arrival of British settlers, India was a liberal country at ease with same-sex love and gender fluidity, but when the British settled in India they brought with them laws that reflected a rigid, Victorian morality. The Section 377 criminalized sexual activities which are against the order of nature imposing up to a life sentence on “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” In 2009 the Delhi High Court ruled that the law could not be applied to consensual sex, and decriminalized gay sex, but in 2013 the Supreme Court restored the law. Religious groups appealed the 2009 decision and Supreme Court ruled that Parliament and not the Delhi High Court should take up the issue. Indian gay-rights activists challenged the law on the basis that it violates their rights to equality and liberty and finally the Supreme Court agreed to review the law.
Section 377 sounds like an old, archaic law, and when you think about it, it looks like one of those historic laws which are never enforced. But, unfortunately, that’s not the truth. As CNN reports, Arif Jafar, one of the petitioners, was arrested in 2001 under the law and spent 49 days in jail. He has since been fighting for the law to be changed. Jafar runs an informal support group in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The group, named "Trust," provides counseling, support and sexual health services to gay and transgender persons. In his petition, Jafar describes the experience as dehumanizing and a violation of his fundamental rights. He has also alleged that he was beaten and humiliated every day because of his sexuality. It is this petition, along with five others, that is expected to overturn the old law.
This law has to be overturned because it is archaic and discriminatory. Many people are expecting the law to be changed, no matter the fact that India is a conservative country. It looks like India is changing; for a decade now, pride parades have threaded through New Delhi’s streets, and if India follows the lead of its neighbor Nepal, which already overturned the law, Indians should expect a big step in equality for LGBT people very soon.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia