ST: Delhi court legalises homosexual acts

3 July 2009
Straits Times (Top stories)

Delhi court legalises homosexual acts

In a landmark decision, British colonial-era law is overturned 
By P. Jayaram, India Correspondent 

NEW DELHI: A court yesterday ruled that homosexual acts between consenting adults are legal in India.

The ruling overturned a British colonial era law similar to the one on Singapore’s books that classifies same-sex practices as criminal offences. They were punishable by up to 10 years in prison in India.

The landmark judgment by the Delhi High Court was hailed by the country’s gay community but drew fire from religious leaders.

Gay activists had gathered at the court dressed in colourful attire, some with their faces painted and others wearing masks, and cheered and shed tears of joy as the judgment was pronounced.

They waved posters saying ‘Legal Homosexual’, ‘Accept, appreciate differences’, and ‘Queer and Proud’. Another read: ‘I am the pink sheep of the family’.

But a priest, Father B. Stephen, opposed the decision. ‘It is against Indian culture and family values,’ he said. ‘The Catholic Church will never accept it.’

The 148-year-old law in India, like Section 377A of the Penal Code in Singapore, is a carry-over from their days as British colonies. It deems homosexual practices such as anal sex ‘unnatural’ and criminal acts. Though there have been few convictions, Indian police have used it to harass and even blackmail homosexuals.

In its ruling yesterday, the Delhi court said that the law violated Article 21 of the Constitution – equal opportunity of life and equality before law – and that sex between consenting adults should be legalised.

Quoting the country’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Chief Justice Ajit Prakash and Justice S. Muralidhar said: ‘Equality and inclusiveness are the tenets of the Constitution.’

The Constitution guaranteed homosexuals rights equal to what other citizens enjoyed, they ruled.

The verdict came in response to a petition filed nine years ago by the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, a Delhi-based NGO which spreads awareness about Aids, and Voices Against 377, a gay activist group that was seeking decriminalisation of homosexuality.

‘I’m so excited and I haven’t been able to process the news yet,’ said Ms Anjali Gopalan, Naz Foundation’s executive director. ‘I think it is historic. We have taken the biggest step into the 21st century.

Rights activists say the law sanctions discrimination and marginalises the gay community.

Health experts say it discourages safe sex and has been a hurdle in fighting HIV and Aids. Roughly 2.5 million Indians have HIV.

Homosexuality is slowly gaining acceptance in some parts of India, especially in its big cities. Many bars have gay nights, and some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues.

Still, being gay remains deeply taboo, and a large number of homosexuals hide their sexual orientation from their friends and families.

‘You know all these years I have been given that strange look and have been made to feel like a criminal – for what, for living my life by my terms?’ said Mr Manas Malhotra, one of the organisers of the ‘Gary Pride March’ in Delhi.

‘Today’s verdict has been absolutely heart-warming, especially when the court said for the first time that it is our fundamental right to live the way we want.’

Yesterday’s ruling can be challenged in the Supreme Court, however.

‘We hope the government will not appeal,’ said Ms Tripti Tandon, a Naz Foundation lawyer. ‘If they do, it will be a long drawn-out process.’

She said that while the Delhi High Court’s order is not binding on other states, she hoped the ruling would have a ‘persuasive’ effect across the country.

But Mr Purushottam Narain Singh, an official of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, said: ‘We are totally against such a practice as it is not our tradition or culture.’

Muslim cleric Maulana Khalid Rashid also said homosexuality is against Islam and other religions. ‘There is no need to legalise homosexuality,’ he said.


Where it’s illegal

  • According to UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Programme On HIV/Aids, more than 80 of its 192 member states have legislation that outlaws homosexual sex.
  • From a list compiled by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, these countries mainly comprise Asian and African countries, including Commonwealth countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, the Maldives and Bangladesh, and many Middle East states such as Afghanistan, Kuwait and Yemen.
  • Further, in five countries – Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – homosexual acts are punishable by death.
  • All countries in South America, virtually every one in Europe and many in North America and Oceania do not outlaw homosexual sex.
  • About 20 Asian countries, including China, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia, as well as over 10 in Africa, similarly do not ban homosexual sex.

1 Response to “ST: Delhi court legalises homosexual acts”

  1. 1 Indian Family Law Guide 19 September 2009 at 4:27 am

    We got to really appreciate the work done, very informative! keep it up.

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