Indian supreme court decriminalises homosexual acts

In a historic verdict, India's supreme court ruled that homosexuality is no longer a criminal offence, striking down one of the world's oldest laws criminalising gay sex

Campaigners outside the court cheered as the verdict was made public
Campaigners outside the court cheered as the verdict was made public

In a groundbreaking verdict, India’s Supreme Court ruled that gay sex is no longer a criminal offence in the country, striking down one of the world’s oldest laws criminalizing consensual gay sex.

The ruling has overturned a 2013 judgement that upheld a colonial-era law, known as section 377, under which gay sex is categorised as an “unnatural offence”.

It took weeks of deliberation in the Supreme Court and decades of struggles by gay Indians and campaigners.

 "Criminalising carnal intercourse is irrational, arbitrary and manifestly unconstitutional," Chief Justice Dipak Misra said while reading out his judgement.

In court filings that stretched for hundreds of pages, more than two dozen petitioners related the emotional cost of living closeted lives, the bouts of depression, the abuse, the persecution, the blackmail and the coming-out journeys they had made while living under a shadow that made their most intimate behaviour illegal.

Campaigners outside the court waiting for the ruling began cheering as the verdict was made public, with some even breaking into tears.

Ritu Dalmia, one of the five LBGTI Indians who put their name to the legal petition that succeeded on Thursday, said the verdict made her feel “hope once again”.

“I was turning into a cynical human being with very little belief in the system, but honestly this has really shown once again that, at the end, we are a functional democracy where freedom of choice, speech and rights still exist,” she said.

“This ruling is hugely significant,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

India is the world’s second-most populous country, home to many millions of gay people, and Ganguly said the ruling could set a precedent for nations with similar colonial-era laws to end their “discriminatory, regressive treatment” of gay and transgender citizens.

In recent years more and more Indians have come out, and acceptance of gay, lesbian and transgender people has grown to some degree, the fact that intimate behaviour was still criminalized created much shame and discouraged countless Indians from coming out.

Although prosecution under the law was rare, many Indians feared that if they reported crimes such as rape, they, too, would be arrested or harassed by police officials.

In hearings in July, lawyers argued that the law was a harmful anachronism and legally inconsistent with other recent court rulings, including one made last year that guaranteed the constitutional right to privacy.

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