India′s top court decriminalizes gay sex | News | DW | 06.09.2018
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India's top court decriminalizes gay sex

The ruling from India's Supreme Court strikes down a colonial-era ban on homosexual sex. The court said the law had become a "weapon for harassment in the LGBT community."

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India's top court decriminalizes homosexuality

India's highest court declared Thursday that consensual intercourse between same-sex adults is no longer a crime in the South Asian country. 

The ruling strikes down a 146-year-old colonial-era law, known as Section 377, banning gay sex. Until now, it was punishable with up to 10 years in prison, although few people were jailed. The court said the law went against the rights enshrined in India's Constitution.

"The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community," Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict.

The unanimous ruling comes in response to a petition filed by five people who said they were living in fear of being harassed and prosecuted by police.

Members of the LGBT community hugged each other and cried outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi as news of the verdict spread. Activists and NGOs welcomed the ruling. "We can now live as equal citizens. The law was irrational and arbitrary," Vivek Anand, director of Humsafar Trust, an NGO in Mumbai that promotes LGBT rights, told DW.

"All this while, this law was used to discriminate and harass us. But we can now be free and step outside without fear," gay activist Mohnish Malhotra told DW.

"We feel as equal citizens now," activist Shashi Bhushan told the AFP news agency. "What happens in our bedroom is left to us."

Human Rights Watch's South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said, "This is a good day for human rights." She thanked "all that fought for this, braving the worst sort of prejudice."

Bollywood film producer and director Karan Johar called the verdict historic.

"So proud today! Decriminalizing homosexuality and abolishing section 377 is a huge thumb up for humanity and equal rights!" he wrote on Twitter. "The country gets its oxygen back!"

Section 377 had prohibited "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" — which was widely interpreted as referring to homosexual sex. 

The judges in the case had previously said that homosexuals in India faced deep-rooted trauma and lived in fear.

The court said sex with animals, which also forms a part of Section 377, would remain a criminal offense.

Still a taboo

Over the past decade, gays have gained a degree of acceptance in parts of deeply conservative India, especially in big cities. Some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues. Still, being gay is seen as shameful in much of the country.

In 2009, a court in the capital, New Delhi, had already repealed the law, but the highest court reinstated it as a criminal offense in 2013, bowing to pressure from religious groups.

"The wait was long but the end has come. We dug our heels in and never gave up hope. Now the good word has to spread across the country and bring cheer to the community," Rose Venkatesan, India's first transgender television talk show host, told DW.

India's conservative government had opposed ending Section 377 but said ahead of the hearing that it would leave the decision to the "wisdom" of the Supreme Court. It had warned, however, that judges should not change other aspects of Indian law, such as the right to marriage.

"One major battle is over. Now, there has to be acceptance and recognition across society. It is only after that we can move into areas of gay marriage and civil union," Hrishi Sathawane, a US-based Indian engineer, told DW via Skype. Based in California, Sathawane married his Vietnamese partner Vinh in Yavatmal, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, in December 2017.

ng/sms (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)

Additional reporting by Murali Krishnan from New Delhi.

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