SODOMY, SODOYOU

India, World’s Largest Democracy, Bans Gay Sex

gay-indiaIndia’s Supreme Court set back the clock on human rights some 150 years Wednesday when it reinstated a ban on gay sex.

In 2009, the Delhi High Court lifted the ban on consenting adults, ruling unconstitutional a section of the penal code dating back to 1860 that prohibited “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal.” Violating the law carries with it a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Faith-based groups appealed the gay sex ban’s reversal to the Supreme Court. In a shocking decision, the Court overruled the 2009 decision, proclaiming that only parliament had the right to change the penal code. LGBT activists had expected the Supremes to simply let the 2009 ruling stand, as the Court had made progressive rulings on other social issues in recent years.

Meanwhile public acceptance and awareness of homosexuality in the otherwise socially conservative nation has slowly increased. The 2009 ruling stems from the work of the gay rights advocacy group, the Naz Foundation, which initially filed suit against the colonial law in 2001. Years of struggle later and the Delhi High Court reversed the ban on gay sex, opening the door, activists say, to protecting LGBTs from losing their jobs and preventing doctors from refusing to treat patients based on their sexuality.

“This verdict is remarkable and bizarre,” social scientist Sanjay Srivastava told the BBC. “How can a court take away a fundamental right which has been already given to people? It is a huge setback for the gay community. And it makes India look thoroughly stupid internationally.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government seemed to support the 2009 decision at the time, but with general elections in May — and the conservative Hindu nationalist party gaining momentum — the government is unlikely to take a stand against the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The Supreme Court has honored the sentiments of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and those who believe in morality,” said popular Hindu spiritual leader Baba Ramdev. “Today they are talking about men having sexual relationships with men, women with women; tomorrow they will talk of sexual relationships with animals.”

Though heavily disappointed, Naz — as well as other activists, lawyers and LGBT rights supporters — plan on fighting the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We feel very let down,” said Nax Foundation’s lawyer Anand Grover. “But our fight is not over and we will continue to fight for the constitutional right.” Gautam Bhan, an activist who had petitioned the court, added defiantly, “We cannot be forced back into the closet. We are not backing off from our fight against discrimination.”