It looks like India’s notorious homosexuality ban might soon be a thing of the past, as the country’s Supreme Court prepares to make a groundbreaking ruling that activists hope will be a major victory for LGBT rights in the country with a population of 1.3 billion. India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday started hearing a challenge to one of the world’s oldest laws criminalizing consensual gay sex, a debate that has raised broader questions about how far to extend equal rights in the country.
In India homosexuality is prohibited by Section 377 of the penal code, a holdover from British rule. The law was initially repealed in 2009 but reinstated by the Supreme Court four years later. Former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told The Independent that Section 377 doesn’t reflect authentic Indian values but rather “the Victorian morals of the 1860s.”
Lawyers representing a cluster of gay and lesbian Indians who petitioned the court said the law, known as Section 377, was an archaic holdout from India’s colonial era.
“We are asking for a declaration that our rights are protected,” Mukul Rohatgi, argued before five judges as they heard arguments on whether to uphold the law, which prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal.”
Laws similar to Section 377 have been overturned in the United States, Canada, England and Nepal, India’s neighbor, Mr. Rohatgi said. He argued that the law was not in keeping with a ruling last year that guaranteed the constitutional right to privacy, including for gay people, and that it made no distinction between consensual and nonconsensual sex.
For much of its precolonial history, India was at ease with depictions of same-sex love and gender fluidity. In Hinduism, the country’s predominant religion, gods transform into goddesses and men become pregnant. But acceptance of homosexuality eroded when the British settled in India, bringing with them laws that reflected a rigid, Victorian morality.
The New York Times reported that emotions in the courtroom were intense as the judges were told that the petitioners had lost many years to fear, years that could not be relived. But at least the Court could ensure that the next generation of homosexuals could live their lives in full. The court will most likely reach a verdict in a few weeks, stay connected to The Rustin Times for more information.