India’s Supreme Court on Monday agreed to reconsider a 2013 decision, which had criminalised consensual sexual relations between same-sex adults. This is seen as a victory for equal rights campaigners.
Lawyer Anand Grover, who appeared for five members of the LGBT community who had petitioned the court seeking a review of the ban, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “It is a big relief and a primary step taken by the Supreme Court to review its earlier order.”
The petitioners had told the court they were living in constant fear of police action because of their sexual orientation.
The court said a larger group of judges will re-examine the constitutional validity of Section 377 – a colonial-era law that prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” – widely interpreted to refer to homosexual sex.
“What is natural to one may not be natural to others,” the top court said on Monday. “A section of people or individuals who exercise their choice should never remain in a state of fear.”
“We are being cautiously optimistic about the development today. We have climbed mountains of hope in the past and come toppling down,” said gay rights activist Harish Iyer and host of ‘Gaydio’, India’s first radio show on LGBT issues.
India’s Supreme Court had, in a surprise ruling in 2013, reinstated a ban on gay sex after a four-year period of decriminalisation, which had helped bring homosexuality into the open in the socially conservative country.
India’s LGBT community has argued the ban undermines fundamental rights, as it fails to protect them. But earlier petitions to review the ban were overturned by the court.
Although the law banning homosexuality is rarely enforced in India, it is used to intimidate, harass, blackmail and extort money from gay people, activists say.
There are no official figures on the number of cases, and most go unreported, as victims are too scared to report crimes to the police, fearing they will be punished too, activists say.
Gay sex is punishable by up to 10 years jail under the law.
“We want to emphasise that we are not asking for any special rights. We are asking for constitutional rights given to any citizen in the country,” said Koninika Roy from the Humsafar Trust, which works with the LGBT community.
-Suchitra Mohanty and Roli Srivastava, Thomson Reuters Foundation