Image: Bikas Das/AP Photo
Homosexual activity has been prohibited in India for over a century. In the 1860’s, a time when Britain still controlled India as a colony, gay sex was banned under a law called Section 377 that forbid “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” Offenders could face up to a lifetime in prison.
Today, liberal LBGTQ Indian people and their allies are battling such laws with strong opposition from conservatives.
Opposition to decriminalizing homosexuality continues to exist in rural areas, where homophobia still runs rampant. Some communities even recognize homosexuality and other non-heteronormative identities as types of mental disorders.
The Indian government has gone back and forth on whether or not it supports gay rights, with different officials offering differing viewpoints on Section 377. In 2009, New Delhi’s high court decriminalized gay sex, only to be pressured into declaring legal sanctions on it again in 2013 after pressure from conservatives.
At the very least, the decision of the courts won’t be impacted by an other branch of government. Senior government lawyer Tushar Mehta declared that the debate on homosexuality’s legality would be left “to the wisdom of the courts.”
On a positive note for equality, Justice J. Chandrachud, one of the judges who is overseeing the case, spoke out in favor of more leniency. He said, “We don’t want a situation where two homosexuals enjoying a walk on Marine Drive should be disturbed by the police and charged under Section 377.”
In 2016, 2,187 cases under Section 377 were registered under the category of “unnatural offences.” Despite the large number reported, few of this cases went to trial, and ultimately 16 people were acquitted versus only seven convicted.