“A Great Day for Prejudice and Inhumanity”
December 11th, 2013
So says the respected novelist, poet, and leading LGBT rights campaigner Vikram Seth to one of India’s leading commercial broadcasters:
Indian human rights advocates are calling today a “black day” following the country’s Supreme Court decision to reinstate the country’s colonial era sodomy law. In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that the 153-year-old law, known as Section 377, was unconstitutional, and for the next four years LGBT people in a country representing more than 17% of the world’s population were free from the threat of arrest and imprisonment for up to ten years. Today’s Supreme Court decision reinstates Section 377 and throws the whole issue to Parliament, and has shocked human rights advocates in India and around the world. Pink News has reaction:
“Such a decision was totally unexpected from the top court. It is a black day,” said Arvind Narrain, a lawyer for the Alternative Law Forum gay rights group.
“We are very angry about this regressive decision of the court.”
Ashok Row Kavi, of the activist group Humsafar Trust, said: “This is a very sad day for us, we are back to square one in our fight for the democratic rights of the gay community.”
…“One would never expect the supreme court of India to make such a retrograde order, that is so against the trend internationally,” said rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves.
“This takes us back to the dark ages. This is a day of mourning for us in India.”
“Retrograde” seems to be the most common expression Indians are using to describe today’s decision. Protests have broken out in the financial capital of Mumbai. Observers doubt that India’s government will take up repeal of Section 377 anytime in the foreseeable future. Parliament is currently hopelessly deadlocked, much like our Congress. Elections are coming up in May, and the socially conservative Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are seeing gains in the polls as it is.
The Times of India has a good primer on the case and asks:
Here’s a pop quiz. Which century are we living in? 21st you say! But it seems the Supreme Court of India doesn’t agree with this logical fact. What else can explain the dogmatic and regressive verdict of the SC today in which they have upheld section 377 of the Indian Penal code that says that sexual relationship against the order of the nature is an offence. They also ruled that the courts should not intervene and that it was up to parliament to legislate on the issue. Wow, another wonderful responsibility on the able shoulders of our educated, socially sensitive and logical MPs-deciding how India’s citizen should lead their private lives!
The Times continues:
The verdict has been shocking on many levels.
Firstly, landing a major blow to India’s claim of being a country with a modern outlook, the fact a law made by Britishers in the 1860’s has been upheld in 2013 makes for a strange sentence.
Secondly, with many countries now equating gay equality with the rights for same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court ruling puts India back in the company of most nations in the Islamic world and many African countries which criminalise homosexuality. The only country in South Asia where gay sex is now legal is Nepal.
“It is highly embarrassing for the country because now we will be among the dirty dozens of the world,” said Narayan, the lawyer from the Alternative Law Forum.In most western countries, the debate about same-sex couples has shifted on to their rights to marry. More than a dozen countries now allow homosexuals to wed.
Thirdly, it is a blow to people’s right to equality. Just because gays have made a different lifestyle choice, they do not deserve to be put in jail. They are also entitled to their privacy and dignity. They do face widespread discrimination and ignorance from a largely homophobic Indian society. And with this verdict, the law has also deserted them.
Fourthly, by putting the ball in the Parliament’s court, the Supreme Court has now granted power to decide how India’s citizens should lead their private lives, in the hands of those MPs who are yet to become sensitive even to the gender equality issue.