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India’s LGBT Community Dares to Hope After Health Minister’s Comment on Gay Rights

An Indian gay rights activist holds a placard denouncing a Supreme Court ruling criminalising gay sex in Bangalore, India. Image by Abhishek Chinnappa. Copyright Demotix (11/12/2013)

An Indian gay rights activist holds a placard denouncing a Supreme Court ruling criminalising gay sex in Bangalore, India. Image by Abhishek Chinnappa. Copyright Demotix (11/12/2013)

A recent comment by India's health minister that gay people are entitled to human rights just like anybody else has rekindled hopes among the country's LGBT community, which has fought a long battle to convince the government to decriminalise homosexuality and uphold social justice.

The minister was speaking to journalists on the sidelines of an event organized by the health ministry in Delhi. When asked about his views on gay rights and decriminalization of consensual gay sex between adults, Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan said that everybody has human rights and it is the job of the government to protect them. Though he refused to elaborate further on the topic, the statement was widely read as supportive of the LGBT cause and widely welcomed — both by the LGBT community as well as on social media.

News anchor Gargi Rawat tweeted:

Indian journalist and writer Minhas Merchant told his more than 42,000 followers:

LGBT rights activist Tushar M reacted

However, some within the LGBT community continue to be skeptical despite the minister's positive comment.

Four years ago, the LGBT community in India had broken into celebration when in a landmark judgement the Delhi High Court decriminalized consensual homosexual relationships between adults. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code or IPC (adopted into the Indian Constitution by the Imperial British empire in 1861) which considered gay sex “unnatural” or “against the order of nature” was debated and annulled for the first time by any court in the country.

Even though it was considered a huge leap forward by many, there were many others who were severely critical of the judgement. Some complained “Western” culture was gaining ground over traditional Indian societal norms. In fact, Dr. Harsh Vardhan's predecessor had courted controversy in 2011 for referring to homosexuality as “unnatural” and a “disease” that had come from the West and was unfortunately spreading fast in the country.

Consequently, several appeals were filed with the Supreme Court of India, challenging the Delhi High Court judgement. To the surprise of many people and groups across the country, the Supreme Court overturned the Delhi High Court's judgment on 11 Dec. 2013, ruling [pdf] that the High Court's judgment stating that Section 377 lacked constitutionality was incorrect and leaving it for lawmakers to decide whether gay sex between consenting adults ought to be legalized:

While parting with the case, we would like to make it clear that this Court has merely pronounced on the correctness of the view taken by the Delhi High Court on the constitutionality of Section 377 IPC and found that the said section does not suffer from any constitutional infirmity. Notwithstanding this verdict, the competent legislature shall be free to consider the desirability and propriety of deleting Section 377 IPC from the statute book or amend the same as per the suggestion made by the Attorney General.

Like other issues in India, contrasting opinions from across the country poured in as soon as the judgement went public. In the midst of all that debate, the LGBT community which had thought that they had won the battle against the law in 2009, was back to battling social stigma and fighting for equal rights.

Shortly after the health minister's positive comment, the government clarified that the Supreme Court was currently hearing a curative petition on the matter and that the government had no plans to take up the matter of amending Section 377 until the Supreme Court gave its ruling.

While the issue remains suspended, caught between court and parliament, Global Voices spoke to a few members of the local student community in Bangalore and found an almost unanimous response: “Live and let live!”

Shraddha Shivraj, a 22-year-old student of telecommunication engineering, at BMS College of Engineering said,

I feel that India is turning into everything I’ve ever dreaded the most. To call ourselves liberal and tolerant is a far-fetched concept which will never be realized. And to see that in a society where Hindus, Muslims and Christians who are the majority, all of whom oppose a person’s rights to freely choose who he/she loves without being harassed by the society, is such a pitiful sight. What happened to uniting under Secularism now? What about the right to freedom? Have the Human Rights disappeared from the face of this country? If this medieval mindset does not change soon enough, I don’t think I will be a proud Indian anymore. Immediate action by lawmakers and human rights organizations is needed and homosexuals deserve and are entitled to the same rights as straight people.

Shreea Sharma, a 22-year-old student on an internship at the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) located in the city, echoed this sentiment:

I just feel that it is disgusting how people can put a limitation on who you can love and who you cannot. Homosexuality has been observed in other animals too, then why call it unnatural? When nature has accepted it, what rights do we humans have?

Shreea's 20-year-old sister Ashna added:

Love knows no boundaries; Everything is fair in love and war; True love knows no nastiness. Denying someone’s love is completely antithetical to this very concept. You love whom you love, and you’re attracted to who you’re attracted to. Why should that be anyone else’s business?”

Akshay Nelakurti, a 20-year-old student also from BMS College of Engineering, said he felt the anguish and disgust too:

I believe this is a huge set-back for the largest democracy on Earth. Instead of giving people the freedom to live the way they want to they are teaching us not to be accepting. Why do the majority of people in India think that every change is a weapon of destruction? Be it gay marriage, gay rights, pre-marital sex, or live-in relationships, the last two aren’t illegal but still frowned upon.

Sabreesh Sekar, a 19-year-old student in the city and an active member of the Rotract Club in Bangalore, seemed skeptical about the government's promises to bring justice to the community. According to him:

The new Parliament will not table this issue because of its proximity to many right-wing organizations

The anger and frustration at the current state of gay rights in India appears evident among both the LGBT community as well as a large section of the youth. As is happening in many other parts of the world today, let's hope that India too will honour the human rights of its LGBT population and give them the freedom to be themselves without shame and indignity.

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  • Prashant

    Thanks for the media support and awarness to the general public about the pathetic situation of gays india. Indian people specially these extremely proud judges with no brains or awarness about wordly affairs. These judges get lot money and r not bothered at all about the rights of indians or about the indian economy. Bad decisions by not well educated judges has damaged telecom mining industry and taken away lakhs of jobs. judges live lavishly in plush house and splurge like kings on our tax money..but why do work against us itself!!?? lets protest against these new british lords..

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  • inkspit

    India, one of the most culturally prosperous nation. also one of the highly populated nations…

    now culture as per the elders came up from the stories which they inherited from their elders as a form of stories or myths.

    which was a religious belief…

    there was a time when the elders of the society considered the male child very important considering the fact the alpha male signiface which was given at the time then. A very important point to be considered here is the fact that at this specific time the population of the country was almost half f what it is now.

    many facts were that the dowry system which was prevalent allowed the Guys family to demand a sum of money from the brides family. which i guess logically was a kind of Fee which was considered to the daily nessecities and the care for the bride while she would spend the rest of her life at her in laws place.

    but there was a time when unfortunately, a lot of families considered Killing the girl child just to avoid the situation which may arise in the future. so a huge number of the girl child (Feotus) was killed right at birth…sadly the families did this to avoid the monetary burden for them which may arise at the time of the marriage of the girl child.

    Little did they know that the entire universe is at work whenever a child is born be it male human a female human male dog female dog, monkeys even the god damn insects. its not just a random thing that happens inside a womans stomach that makes it a male or a girl child. the entire universe kind of plans at the time when the woman is pregnant. its quite obvious that people then did not understand this because of the fact they did not have acess to any information about what so ever.

    now as humans decided to slay these female child right at birth. the souls which were supposed to be thriving on mother natures arms these sould returned back to where they were created. and its quite obvious the force which sent them out to be born on the respective families these souls returned. and when these new baby souls reached to her. mother natures soul may have cried, but little did they know that each tear she shed then must be paid for.

    So an entire generation later, we are now here iin this current age where we can see a lot of men who have more connection to thir female side. mordern society may TAG them as Gay, which means happy i suppose.

    but its the dead souls of those lil featuses that died then we sent back on these male human species.

    now being gay should not really be a dissapointing thing. its quite obvious that the society in India had always looked down upon them. Which is one of the most pathetic things they could have.

    with a huge population comes a huge number of people a few of them make it to the top by whatsoever means but sadly a huge amount thrives on the middle and below the poverty line because of the lack of knowledge of our own religious guidelines and the information that was supposedly given from the HOLY god shiva, it says the ardh narishwara. that is supposed to mean half woman god i guess. also if this term is broken down it means may be a Male human being with the mind of a female. also it can lead to a conclusion that these so called Gay people are actually a form of the lord shiva himself.

    this gay commnity has arised to a huge number right now, but it no denial that it did not exist in the past. now by pasy i mean, before our parents, and their parents and their parents and their parents and even their parents and so on. the point is that ever since human civilization especially taking into consideration the hindu community, they were called out with a name of eunuchs, and were forced to be an outcast to the society, they were not given any societys acceptance, nor offered any jobs, sadly they had to come out to the streets and beg for money through which they could survive the day. a huge disrespect done on the name of our god Shiva.

    and now what the elders get is the same wrath of disrespecting of gods creation in their own face.

    even today these gay people (not all) are afraid to come out in the open. because the society mocks at them. BUT consider this fact that as these male humans with an intellct of the female kind are the right people that are required to give the much needed protection for the female kinds. why dont any one considers this. and besides every hindu knows the rage of lord shiva, for each and every species who has come across the term shiva must fear him and each and every one of his followers,

    so why did our society shunn these beautiful creatures of our own gods, and why were they treated with so much disrespect in the middle ages, now in this age that we have evolved in i guess we can do something right, and consider looking upon these people with a new vision. for its not a denial that any one who knows shiva can understand what i am trying to convey.

    sadly what the older civilization has done cruelty to them in the past we cannot change but what we can do is accept them and understand them for its not their fault for how they are. and its just a way/law of the universes evolution,

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