India may not keep its sodomy laws
December 13th, 2013
Indian gays are angry and dismayed over the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate sodomy laws and have taken to the streets. But there is another somewhat-unexpected group that also seems to feel betrayed and upset by the ruling: Indian politicians.
In July 2009, when the New Delhi Court ruled that the colonial era sodomy laws were a violation of the Constitution, there was little formal objection. In September of that year Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to let the decision apply to the rest of the nation and the government and the political parties heaved a huge sigh of relief. While they recognized that individual rights demanded that the laws be lifted, they also knew that doing so would anger various conservative or religious factions. So they stayed silent on the issue, did not appeal the decision, and were happy that the courts had taken it off their shoulders.
But a collective of religious groups appealed and, to the surprise of nearly everyone, the courts overturned the New Delhi decision, stating that the law was constitutional and that if it sodomy laws were to be abolished it would be up to the legislature.
So now legislators and politicians are back in an uncomfortable position. They are made even more so by the near-universal outcry of the nation’s newspapers. (Caveat: I’m judging this by English-language papers. While Hindi is the official language of India’s government, English is also has official status and is the language of business, journalism, and the judiciary and is the common language across India’s many regional dialects.)
Now it appears that the government may channel the outrage to try and reverse the high court’s decision – especially if they can do so without actually passing laws themselves.
From the Times of India (the world’s largest-selling English language newspaper)
“The government is considering all options to restore the (Delhi) high court verdict on (Section) 377 (of IPC). We must decriminalize adult consensual relationships,” law minister Kapil Sibal said.
Finance minister P Chidambaram said the Supreme Court ruling was “wrong” and all options would be looked at to set right the Supreme Court order.
Terming the judgment “disappointing”, he said the court should have applied “current social and moral values” in the case.
He said the government should file a review or curative petition and that the matter should be heard by a five-bench judge.
And the nation’s most influential politician is also on board.
Amid an uproar over the Supreme Court verdict on gay rights issue, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said she was disappointed that the apex court and hoped Parliament would address the matter.
“I hope that Parliament will address the issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India, including those directly affected by the judgement,” the UPA Chairperson said.
It would be very difficult to get the law reversed in Parliament, but if the request for judicial review is not successful, it may be pursued. India is a significant player in the global marketplace and is determined to be a modern and progressive nation and while the culture is still largely homophobic, recent years have shown an increase in tolerance for homosexuality in India and the surrounding region.