Asia Pacific / Social Issues

India's top court decriminalizes homosexual acts

AP, Reuters, AFP-JIJI

India’s top court has struck down a colonial-era law that makes homosexual acts punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The court gave its ruling Thursday on a petition filed by five people who challenged the law, saying they are living in fear of being harassed and prosecuted by police.

In 2009, a New Delhi High Court declared unconstitutional Section 377 of the law, which says “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” — the first two parts of which are widely interpreted to refer to homosexual sex. That decision was overturned in a ruling by three Supreme Court justices in 2013 on the grounds that amending or repealing the law should be left to Parliament. But lawmakers failed to take action, and in July the government told the Supreme Court to give a ruling in the case.

“The law had become a weapon for harassment for the LGBT community,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he announced the landmark verdict.

Activists had been fighting the ban since the 1990s. Thursday’s verdict sparked celebrations among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups across the vast nation.

Members of the LGBT community hugged each other and cried as news of the verdict spread.

“I am speechless! It’s taken a long time to come but finally I can say I am free and I have equal rights as others,” said Rama Vij, a college student who wore a rainbow scarf.

Gay sex has long been taboo in conservative India, particularly in rural areas, where homophobia is widespread.

According to official data, 2,187 cases under Section 377 were registered in 2016 under the category of “unnatural offenses.”

Seven people were convicted and 16 acquitted.