Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rights of Sexual Minorities

The Union Home Ministry took a step in right direction by publicly saying that the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises homosexuality should be amended or repealed. The Law Minister also confirmed that soon a meeting of the Home,Health and Law Ministers will be convened.He pointed out that many sections of the IPC are outdated and government is exploring possibilities of amending such laws and updating legal provisions so that they were in tune with the times.

But soon the statements of religious Right opposing the move began to appear in the media. The Islamic Clergy, the Christian Church and the Viswa Hindu Parishad came out with statements opposing homosexuality as against God and religion.

"It (homosexuality) is not at all acceptable and agreeable. It is against the tenets of bible. Man and Woman were created in God's own image. Homosexuality is against the society," Rt Rev Abraham Mar Paulos Episcopa, Head of Marthoma Syrian Church of Malabar diocesan told PTI.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad is also opposed to any dilution in the Section 377 of IPC.
"It is against the culture and family system in India. It will result in spread of number of diseases. But we will see what changes, if at all, are introduced in the section," said Vinod Bansal, spokesperson of Delhi unit of the Parishad.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, a prominent body of Muslim community too has hit out at the government's proposed move, saying the repeal of the section would create "sexual anarchy" in the society.

The confused and unsure Government began back pedalling.

While Union law minister Veerappa Moily claimed he had been “misquoted” as saying the government was planning to legalise homosexuality, health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke of the need for “debate and consensus” on the issue before any move.

"I can simply say that there should be more debate -- public debate, Parliament debate," Ghulam Nabi Azad said at a press conference here. "There has to be consensus. The negative and positive has to be evaluated and then a conclusion should be evolved

This is a cowardly way of putting amendments to section 377 in the cold storage as consensus appears unlikely.
The attitude of the new Health Minister is in stark contrast with that of his predecessor Dr Ramadoss who said in August 2008:
"Structural discrimination against those who are vulnerable to HIV such as sex workers and MSM must be removed if our prevention, care and treatment programmes are to succeed," he said. "Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises Men who have sex with Men, must go".
Interestingly it was the then Home Minister Mr Shivraj Patil who opposed it
When the controversy and the tug of war between the Home Minister and the Health Minister occurred regarding this issue last year,the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proved his label of being weak by not taking leadership and coming to a conclusion of his own on what is the correct and progressive measure.Instead he asked the two ministers to reach a consensus on their own which was equivalent to shelving the issue

India is among a fairly large group of countries in Asia and Africa [shown red in the map below]which still has laws criminalising homosexuality. With the UPA Government not showing signs of bravery and statesmanship India may remain in this group for some more time.


Let me conclude this post with quotes from the editorial of The Hindu:

Are the winds of change that seemed to be blowing through the corridors of the central government on the issue of ending legal discrimination against gay sex petering out? Hope that the infamous Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code would be either quickly repealed or suitably amended — raised when the Union Home Ministry boldly described it as an “absurdity in the present day” — have receded with the Law Minister, Veerappa Moily, announcing that the Centre was in no hurry to take such a step. Calls for a parliamentary debate to reach a ‘wider consensus’ on a basic issue of human rights and equal justice are nothing but an excuse to put off a hard decision on ending an obnoxious colonial-era provision that has absolutely no place in the statute book of a modern democratic and secular state

Having promised to review this provision, the government must not give in to the pressure of religious fundamentalists, moral obscurantists, and others who argue that Indian society is not ready to accept such change. Especially on non-negotiable social issues, governments must lead public opinion — not tail its least enlightened strands or go for the lowest common denominator

Let me add that this may be the time for the 'Dynasty' to intervene.If they prove that they are courageous enough to implement this progressive measure in India there may be some justification in them claiming for Jawaharlal Nehru's legacy.


  1. I too was puzzled at the sudden change in stand. But I suppose that is normal in politics, unfortunately.

    That was an interesting map. As one can see, the poorest and most repressive states are the only ones that criminalise homosexuality (with the exception of one US state, it seems). For all our brave talk about being a world power and a great democracy, we seem quite content being in the company of petty dictators and religious obscurantists.


    Quirky Indian

  2. Isn't it funny about the "spreading of disease" , as if diseases wait for a law in order to spread. Otherwise, they just remain dormant. i wonder should we get rid of other laws also- for medical intervention:)

    A very good write up.

  3. I agree Charakan.This is really disappointing.

    And isn't individual freedom a fundamental right?

    Consensus is impossible to reach anyways. I know of people who think homosexuals are similar to pedophiles. Many others think homosexuals require medical or psychological attention for their 'condition'.

  4. Quirky, Yes India is not among very good company here,but I feel if the Government is brave enough to go ahead and de-criminalise Homosexulaity there may not be any big protest.

  5. @lankrita,
    The fact is the stigma of homosexuality is causing more risk to the health of the population. Due to this law Homosexuals tend to go for unsafe sex.

  6. IHM, yes it is disappointing.Hope our PM will be bold enough to fully support this cause.Then thinks will move.

  7. it took the 'queer' issue for the clerics of hindu, isalm & xianity to shed their difference!

    i was quite impressed by that hindu editorial - quite a bold position for the paper to take.

  8. Its nice to see that all of us ridicule the ban on homosexuality.Infact everyone in my circle too ridicules it.

    Not completely, but I have a feeling that 'generation gap' is playing an important role here, and then there is Politics in the name of 'Indian Culture' ofcourse.

    Politicians probably weigh everything in terms of the number of votes and they lack gut feeling.It doesn't count whats good or whats bad, what counts is where they can prove themselves more 'Indian' than others..Huh!..Disgusting!! isn't it??

    I was sort of smiling when I read the last line "Jawaharlal Nehru's legacy"..Reminded me of my post ;-)..!!

  9. KPJ, yes that editorial in The Hindu rocks. Reading it made me write this post.

  10. Chikki,
    Yes generation gap may be a factor,but more importantly the fear of loosing the conservative vote bank is making even the politicians with liberal beliefs hesitate. I appreciate the stand taken by Ambumani Ramadoss and Chidambaram in this.Our PM was not bold enough to make up his mind but the Delhi High Court did.
    Your post might have been a reason for me to remember Nehru now.I added that sentence because there is no doubt in my mind that Jawaharlal Nehru would have supported Gay rights boldly if he was alive now.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Hey Charakan,

    I deleted my comment as I wrote it in a hurry, and my straight-forwardness and plain speaking can sometimes come across as rude. :)
    Anyway, I'll leave a more thoughtful comment later.


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