‘A new dawn for personal liberty’: Indian Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decriminalisation of gay sex

By Matt Spivey

Deputy Politics Editor

In an historic ruling by India’s Supreme Court, consensual same-sex relations have been decriminalised, liberating approximately 2.5 million people from a long battle against illegality for nothing more than being true to themselves. The decision by the Supreme Court has been made in response to a 157-year-old colonial-law which had been upheld in a court judgement back in 2013. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code had criminalised sexual activities against the ‘order of nature’. This ‘order of nature’ includes any oral or anal sex with any man, woman or animal and, whilst not being solely targeted at homosexual relations, it is they who have been most unjustly affected by this pre-historic and backwards law.

Section 377 had been an oppressive legal tool prejudiced against the relations of gay people in India

Section 377 had been an oppressive legal tool prejudiced against the relations of gay people in India, leading many to hide their identity for fear of being labelled a criminal. The overturning of the criminality of homosexuality in India is a major breakthrough for the LGBTQ+ community worldwide and offers hope that those countries in Asia who still maintain prejudiced laws may follow suit.

The Indian Supreme court has decided – after an 18-year long legal battle – that discrimination as a result of someone’s sexual orientation is a violation of rights. Despite there being a clear sense of support from many of India’s biggest cities, opposition to LGBTQ+ rights is still rife in India among religious and rural conservative communities. Whilst the legal acceptance of homosexuality is a major positive step for India, prejudice and homophobic attitudes highlight there is a long way to go still in the battle for equal rights.

The Indian Supreme court has decided – after an 18-year long legal battle – that discrimination as a result of someone’s sexual orientation is a violation of rights.

Postgraduate Vice-Principle of Durham’s LGBT+ Association, Luke Armitage, has this to say on the news: “We are delighted that India’s Supreme Court has made the judgement to decriminalise homosexuality, upholding the fundamental rights of our LGBT+ siblings in India. We also stand in solidarity with those whose laws still criminalise LGBT+ identities and acts, often as a legacy of colonialism. However, today’s judgement is an important step forwards in the fight for LGBT+ liberation worldwide.”

“We are delighted that India’s Supreme Court has made the judgement to decriminalise homosexuality” Postgraduate Vice-Principle of Durham’s LGBT+ Association

Social and legal liberation for a group that had been oppressed for so many years offers more than a renouncement of criminal status but rather allows each individual to express their identity without fear of political or legal persecution. One man interviewed by the BBC stated: ‘I’m finally glad that I can say I’m not a criminal in this country anymore’, showing just what it means to an individual to belong not only in their country but within their community as they are finally free from the fear of being themselves in a society which would condemn them as criminals. One Judge, Indu Malhotra, offers a voice of remorse and guilt for the nation, arguing that ‘history owes an apology’ to India’s LGBT community for having ostracised them for far too long.

One Judge, Indu Malhotra, offers a voice of remorse and guilt for the nation, arguing that ‘history owes an apology’ to India’s LGBT community for having ostracised them for far too long.

A report in 2017 by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association found that homosexuality is illegal in 72 countries; the news from India today lowers this figure and sets a precedent for other nations conflicted by religious considerations to act justly and will hopefully lead to a further decrease in the number of countries where homosexuality is criminalised. The report also found that homosexuality was a crime punishable by death in eight nations. These statistics highlight that there are many countries yet to catch up with equal rights for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, but for India today there should be only joy, elation and a strong sense of gay and national pride.

Although there is a long road ahead before full LGBTQ+ equality is achieved worldwide, India has every reason to celebrate their monumental breakthrough. The 2.5 million individuals from the LGBTQ+ community in India have every right to be elated that their legal battle has come to a close and they are now certainly having their voices heard and identities seen on an international stage.

Photographs: Kandukuru Nagariun and Vinayak Das via Flickr

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