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Asia

Indian gays long for greater social acceptance

Almost a year ago, the gay and lesbian community in India celebrated a landmark ruling. New Delhi's High Court decriminalized homosexuality by striking down parts of the country's colonial-era penal code.

The lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community has been fighting for legal rights

The lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community has been fighting for legal rights

After last year's historic verdict that ended state-sanctioned homophobia, India's fledgling gay community is working to ensure that the Delhi High Court's decisive verdict is not overturned in the Supreme Court. But simultaneously, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or LGBT community as it is widely known, has begun fighting for legal rights. Gautam Bhan, a prominent gay activist, outlines the roadmap ahead:

"We have long said as part of the gay rights movement that the victory in the Delhi High Court last July, was not the victory that ended a battle. It was a victory that began one. I mean really the fight has started now. Decriminalization was the first step. There is still no positive legal inclusion for gays and lesbians in the Indian legal framework. For example there is no non-discrimination in employment, or in health benefits or taxation or in joint home loans or in the right to visit your partner when they are sick."

Gay activists and people belonging to sexual minority groups take part in a Gay Parade

Activists and people belonging to sexual minorities take part in a Gay Parade

Gay rights and law

Indian law does not recognize same-sex marriages, nor does it provide for civil unions. In fact the government is planning to bring in legislation under which gay and lesbian couples cannot have children born with the help of an Indian surrogate mother. It is these exclusions that the LGBT community is striving to abolish.

"There is a range of exclusions that are built into the system at this point," says Bhan. "Marriage, adoption and family law is well known among this range of exclusions. But I think particularly critical to us are exclusions based on livelihood, work and employment. It is still very difficult for transgender to get identification. Hiring practices: people getting fired and being unable to come out at work. People still fear for their physical safety from the police, even though that has begun to change, so I think in a range of these - from personal, to the private and to intimate, there are still many structural constraints facing the gay-lesbian community in India."

Gay rights supporters celebrate outside the Delhi High Court following the landmark ruling on July 2, 2009.

Gay rights supporters celebrate in Delhi following the landmark ruling on July 2, 2009

Raising awareness

Ponnu Arasu, who is also part of the queer movement, says there is a lot that needs to be done to sensitize people so there is a greater social acceptance.

"Legal victories are very important and they are a significant step. But we all know that does not directly mean societal change. So we still have a long way to go in terms of bringing about a change in the attitudes of people in general, in terms of the smallest units such as our natal families, our parents, to institutions such as schools, hospitals and government institutions such as courts."

Many agree that the acceptance of gay marriages, in particular, will require a paradigm shift in the thinking of individuals, religious leaders, law making bodies and governments.

As only a handful of countries have legally enshrined gay rights, for the rest of South Asia and the developing world the Delhi High Court ruling is seen as a symbol of hope.

Author: Murali Krishnan (New Delhi)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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