India decriminalizing homosexuality is the beginning of a global progression toward LGBTQ acceptance
Many historians claim that India, previous to colonial rule, tolerated LGBTQ people. Gender fluidity and homosexuality were celebrated in mythology, and homosexuals were ignored and could do as they pleased.
However, in the mid-nineteenth century, India’s colonial administration established Section 377. Section 377 claims anyone who has sex “against the order of nature” is to be imprisoned for a term of up to 10 years or life.
Any possibility of changes to the legislation’s language was dismissed. Thomas Macaulay, the law’s drafter, wrote that “the injury which would be done to the morals of the community by such discussion would far more than compensate for any benefits which might be derived from legislative measures framed with the greatest precision.” When colonial rule ended, the law stayed.
In 2000, Anjali Gopalan, who runs a New Delhi HIV-advocacy group, the Naz Foundation, was approached by a terrified young man. He claimed his parents forced him to undergo electroshock therapy in a government hospital because he was homosexual. When Gopalan spoke to India’s National Human Rights Commission, they dismissed the complaint. The man was gay, and therefore a criminal.
Amid death threats, Anjali Gopalan and others began to increase pressure on Section 377. After being struck down by a New Delhi high court in 2009 and reinstated by India’s Supreme Court in 2013, the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional two weeks ago. Opponents of the law cheered, cried and celebrated in the streets.
Many of those pleased with the verdict, however, hesitated to give their names. Reports of blackmail, abuse and death threats against LGBTQ people in India are common. The verdict may have been a step in the right direction, but present-day India is a far cry from being a welcome place for LGBTQ citizens.
Indian society is split on the decision. Though many political leaders celebrated the new ruling, others were either silent or outright against it. One warned against a rise in HIV cases. Prime Minister Narendra Modi left the decision to the court and said virtually nothing after the verdict was reached.
Activists worry if the ruling will reach most of the country. Many have warned of the rural communities, but Anjali Gopalan is skeptical of urbanites as well. “Even in urban areas, people can be pretty closed about issues, while some people living in rural areas sometimes show a great deal of understanding,” she said in an interview. “It is very difficult to say that the urban mind is more open than the rural.”
Despite the progress yet to be made, India is ready to keep going. Many celebrators did not give their name, but some did. Many spoke of how they’d come out to their family anytime between the last decade and the day of the ruling. They spoke of their hopes for future generations’ equality of rights, even though they may not live to see the results. Decriminalization was just the beginning. The focus now is on anti-discrimination laws and changing society’s perspective.
It is still illegal to be homosexual in around 70 countries. Two women were caned in Malaysia two weeks ago in front of a sharia high court for attempting to have sex. Homosexuality is still punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. In all these countries, it will take courage from activists to speak out for gay rights.
For nations like India, it is ironic that the West now stands as having the best models for gay rights in the world. However, India’s transformation opens new paths. Activists need not look westward for inspiration. As India continues to progress, other nations can look to it for guidance. In India, Justice Malhotra said, “History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families.” With enough time and effort, the same will be said for all these nations’ communities.