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India’s Decriminalization of Sodomy to be Challenged

July 14, 2009

On July 2, the Delhi High Court overturned Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law which previously banned homosexual sex between consenting adults and referred to same-sex relationships as an “unnatural offense.” Much as Lawrence v. Texas did in the United States in 2003, this recent ruling essentially legalizes homosexuality in Delhi and sets a precedent for similar applications of the law in other parts of the country. Indian LGBT activists are understandably excited and relieved by this turn of events. From BBC News:

Gay rights activists all over the country welcomed the ruling and said it was “India’s Stonewall”. New York’s Stonewall riot in 1969 is credited with launching the gay rights movement.

“It [the ruling] is India’s Stonewall. We are elated. I think what now happens is that a lot of our fundamental rights and civic rights which were denied to us can now be reclaimed by us,” activist and lawyer Aditya Bandopadhyay told the BBC.

“It is a fabulously written judgement, and it restores our faith in the judiciary,” he said.

Of course, not everyone in India is pleased by the ruling. And it is quickly appearing as though the battle for LGBT rights in India is far from over.

Last Thursday, India’s Supreme Court indicated that it would consider an appeal of the decision. The Supreme Court is reviewing petitions from a variety of individuals upset with the ruling, from a Bihar politician, to a popular televangelist and yoga expert, to a group of Hindu, Catholic, Muslim, and Jain clerics.

A common concern among those opposed to the decriminalization is that homosexual sex is inherently antithetical to Indian society and culture. As Lalu Prasad Yadav stated, “We must not follow western culture. Sex between people of the same gender is not at all acceptable.” What Yadav neglects to recall is that the law in question, Section 377, was written by the British and introduced during Britain’s colonial rule of India. This suggests that, if anything, upholding Section 377 is more in line with following western culture than overturning it is. From Global Comment:

The former code, drafted in 1860 by Thomas Babington Macaulay, decreed: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. Colonialist rule has significantly altered the economic, social, and political power granted to India’s populations. Striking down colonialist-era laws signifies a shift in power from British rule and should be commended as a progressive step toward full national sovereignty.

(emphasis mine)

To make your voice heard during the upcoming proceedings, visit the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and send a letter to the Indian government, congratulating them on the ruling and urging them to repeal Section 377 nationally. With the possibility on the horizon of such a basic right being taken away from gays and lesbians in India, so quickly after that right was granted,  now is the time to take action.

  1. July 22, 2009 2:43 am

    From what I understand, the Delhi High Court judgment actually essentially decriminalizes homosexual acts not just in Delhi but in any place in India where there is no conflicting judgment by another High Court. The judgment does not apply solely to Delhi.

    • Carrie permalink
      July 22, 2009 7:23 am

      Would you mind linking your source, nandita? I don’t recall reading that anywhere, but I’d love to stand corrected if you have more accurate information!

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