On Thursday (Sep 6), the LGBTIA+ community in India celebrated a historical triumph: After 24 years of legal challenges and determined struggle, the supreme court of India finally scrapped a colonial-era law criminalising consensual gay sex, called Section 377, hence officially legalising gay sex in India.
Section 377, which is a law left behind from the British rule, penalises gay sex as an “unnatural offence” and sentences the perpetrators to a maximum of life imprisonment. Although the law had not been actively enforced in full, it reinforced fear and repression within the LGBT community.
The announcement, which took place in Delhi, was a result of a unanimous decision among a five-judge bench, headed by India’s outgoing chief justice Dipak Misra. About the judgement, Misra said: “Criminalising carnal intercourse is irrational, arbitrary and manifestly unconstitutional.”
A victory for one is a victory for all
The impact of this decision is undeniable – it overturned more than 150-years of anti-LGBT legislation. However, it is definitely not the end of the fight. While public opinion in India’s biggest cities has been supportive of abolishing the law, strong opposition is still echoed within conservative religious groups and rural communities. It will take a while for overall attitude to change and full acceptance to happen across India.
Moreover, the judges also explicitly said that they had made their decision based on the constitutional validity of Section 377. Other rights regarding marriage or inheritance have yet to be considered.
However, any progress is good progress; the victory that the LGBTIA+ community in India achieved on Thursday is a testimony to the community’s fighting spirit and determination in protecting its rights. It also marks the first step towards building acceptance and cohesion within a conservative India.
The accomplishment in India also has spillover effects upon other countries, especially our very own Singapore. Given the parallel between India’s Section 377 of the Penal Code and Singapore’s Section 377A of the Penal Code, India’s verdict has sparked renewed petition in Singapore.