India legalises homosexuality

India’s New Law On Homsexuality And What It Means For The Rest Of Other Asian Countries

In a historic ruling, India’s supreme court has unanimously overturned a colonial-era law on homosexuality. The pronouncement means that homosexuality is no longer a crime in the South Asian country. Before the September 6 judgment, India stood alongside neighboring countries Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan in criminalizing homosexuality.

The decision to lift the ban was made after weeks of deliberation by the court and 20 years of struggle by gay, lesbian, and transgender activists. The ruling overturns a 2013 verdict which upheld the 158-years old law known as section 377. Section 377 banned homosexual acts “against the order of nature” and made it punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The section reads:

“Unnatural offenses: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

“Criminalizing carnal intercourse under section 377 Indian penal code is irrational, indefensible, and manifestly arbitrary,” Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra said as he read out the judgment.

Section 377 came into force in 1861 during the British rule. The majority of former British colonies still criminalize same-sex intimacy. For instance, the law still exists as section 377 in the penal codes of countries like Pakistan and Myanmar, while in Sri Lanka, it exists under section 365 of the criminal code.

Discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals is reportedly still rampant in those countries. Nevertheless, analysts believe that people are growing more tolerant of LGBT rights even though authorities are unlikely to legalize homosexuality anytime soon.

It remains to be seen if activists in neighboring countries can push their governments to follow in India’s footsteps. Already, the influence appears to be coming quite deep in Bangladesh. Shashanur Islam, the executive director of the Bangladesh Institute for Human Rights, told Reuters that “The Bangladesh LGBT community has gained moral support.”

Bhutan is another country that opposes the idea of gay sex. However, unlike the nation’s above, it does not work under the colonial penal code. In the Buddhist kingdom “sodomy or any other sexual conduct against the law of nature” is punishable by up to one-year imprisonment.

Of the countries bordering India, China is one of the few that permit same-sex intimacy. Homosexuality has been legal in the East Asian country since 1997. However, same-sex couples do not yet have the right to marry legally.

In Nepal, members of the LGBT community enjoy state protection guaranteed by several laws. The country has fast become a reference point for LGBT rights progress in Asia and the world thanks to a 2007 supreme court order which directed the government to review its laws to ensure that societal attitudes toward members of the LGBT community are non-discriminatory. Also, several official documents in Nepal recognize a third gender.

Meanwhile, challenges remain in India, with many people opposing the idea. This doesn’t come as a surprise, seeing as the vast majority of Indians are socially conservative and religiously inclined.
Astrologer, Suresh Kumar Kaushal told Reuters the latest decision would erode traditional society. In his words: “Marriage is the most sacred part of our culture, many cultures actually.” “Sexual relations are a sacred part of this bond,” Kaushal concluded.