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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Next Step For LGBTQ Rights In India - Scrap Or Amend Section 377 From The IPC

This was published in Indiatimes

After the unexpected decision of the Supreme Court in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation, where it recriminalised homosexuality, efforts have increased to either amend or scrap Section 377 from the Indian Penal Code. It is conceded even by members of the ruling dispensation that Section 377 violates the right to equality and right not to be discriminated on the basis of sex as well as right to life and liberty as enshrined in the constitution. Some of the steps taken in this regard are enumerated below.

Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014

On April 24, 2015, The Rajya Sabha unanimously passed the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, which provides for reservation in education and jobs, financial aid and social inclusion for transgenders. It is rare for any house of the parliament to pass a private member’s bill, and this particular bill, moved by DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, became the first bill in 45 years to be passed in the Rajya Sabha. The Government has also assured to bring an updated bill in the Lok Sabha after removing some technical anomalies.

Curative Petition on Sec 377 in Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is currently hearing oral submissions on a curative petition filed against its judgment recriminalising homosexuality. It is rare for the judges to hear oral submissions on a curative petition, and decisions on such petitions are taken usually after the judges confer with each other. However, this departure from practice is being seen as an acknowledgment by the apex court of the changing social realities. It is to be noted that the curative petition against Sec 377 is the last legal resort for the petitioners to get any relief on this issue.

Medical Opinion

Medical Opinion in India has undergone a radical change since the days when arguments were repeatedly advanced claiming homosexuality to be a disease that can be cured. The Indian Psychiatrists Association, in a statement released in February 2014, said that there is no evidence to substantiate the claim that homosexuality is a mental illness or a disease. Earlier in 2011, in representations before the Supreme Court, the Vice President of the Indian Medical Association submitted that homosexuality is not a disease or mental illness.

Emerging Political Consensus

In view of international developments with regard to the issue of homosexuality, political consensus in India is also slowly building up. From Arun Jaitley of the BJP to P. Chidambaram of the Congress, political leaders have expressed their opinions supporting homosexuality. The RSS too has climbed down from its earlier position of vehement opposition to the decriminalisation of homosexuality to maintaining ambiguity on the issue. The Aam Aadmi Party and the CPI(M) have outrightly demanded the reversal of the Supreme Court Judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation.

Pride Parades and Awareness Building

The most stringent opposition to homosexuality comes not from the legal or political circles, but from the society where it is still frowned upon. However, the LGBT community has taken a number of steps to spread awareness about same-sex couples and homosexual relationships, including the organisation of various pride parades in major Indian cities and constituting LGBT groups in many college campuses. Various internet magazines and radio channels are dedicated to covering LGBT issues and spreading their culture. LGBT issues have featured prominently in Bollywood films such as My Brother Nikhil, Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. and Aligarhleading to a slowly building acceptance of the community.

The Road Ahead

With major developed countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa, France etc. legalising gay marriage and homosexuality in general, it would be tough for the Indian government to drag its feet any longer. One can reasonably expect the Supreme Court to either strike down Sec 377 or for the current parliament to pass a bill decriminalising homosexuality in the country. In short, the question is not of “if”, but more of “when”.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Everything You Need To Know About Section 377 Of Indian Penal Code And The Story So Far

This was published in Indiatimes

Section 377 of our constitution, introduced with the Indian Penal Code way back in 1860, criminalises sexual acts “against the order of the nature”. This Victorian era statute was struck down by the Delhi High Court in 2009 in the famous Naz Foundation case, but the decision was overturned on appeal by the Supreme Court in 2013, which reasoned that the matter relating to LGBT rights and decriminalisation of homosexuality should be left to the legislature.

There is widespread support for the scrapping of Section 377 among the enlightened sections of Indian society, including eminent lawyers, jurists, renowned writers, political activists, journalists, doctors, actors, producers, directors, teachers, students etc. The Supreme Court judgment overturning the Naz Foundation case has come in for heavy criticism as it runs against the history of the apex court acting as a champion of the underprivileged.

What was the Naz Foundation Case?

In Naz Foundation vs Govt. of NCT of Delhi, the issue before the two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court was whether Section 377 of the Constitution violates the fundamental rights of the LGBT community and if so, should it be struck down as unconstitutional? And should homosexual acts between consenting adults be legalised?

The bench of Justices Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar answered in the affirmative and read down Section 377 holding that it violated Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the constitution, which guaranteed the right to equality before law, right not to be discriminated on the grounds of sex and right to life and liberty respectively.

The Appeal – Suresh Kumar Kaushal vs. Naz Foundation

In their appeal in the Supreme Court, the petitioners argued that Section 377 does not classify any particular group or gender and hence is not in violation of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. They also argued that if the High Court judgment was approved by the Supreme Court, “India’s social structure and institution of marriage will be detrimentally affected and it would cause young people to be tempted towards homosexual activities”. They finally submitted that the Supreme Court could not legislate and it should leave the matter of legality or illegality of Section 377 to the Parliament.

Sadly, the Supreme Court accepted the arguments advanced by the appellants and observed that Section 377 is the only law that criminalises pedophilia and crimes like sexual abuse and assault. It also reasoned that if Section 377 was a pre-constitutional statute and if it were in violation of any fundamental right, the framers of the constitution would not have included it in the first place. Based on such observations, the apex court overturned the decision of the Delhi High Court.

Subsequent developments

The decision by the Supreme Court was met with heavy criticism and a general outcry from the intelligentsia, but was welcomed by many religious groups. However, some religious organiaations have begun favoring decriminalisation of homosexuality keeping in view the worldwide trend of acceptance for the practice.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has introduced a private member’s bill twice in the Lok Sabha to decriminalise homosexuality, but has been unsuccessful in getting it passed. Many voices within the government, including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, have favored decriminalisation of homosexuality. In February 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to review its decision in the Suresh Kumar Koushal case and referred the curative petitions filed against the decision to a five-judge constitution bench.

The LGBT community in India is no more a minuscule minority as was made out by the apex court in its judgment. It is a thriving community whose members include prominent public figures such as renowned author Vikram Seth, fashion designers Rohit Bal and Manish Arora, film directors Karan Johar and Onir etc. Today, there are various LGBT groups in college campuses across India, which are doing spectacular work in spreading awareness about the LGBT community and in combating homophobia.

As the practice of homosexuality starts getting acceptance worldwide, it is only a matter of time before the Parliament and the Supreme Court in India get rid of the Judeo-Christian morality imposed on the Indian public by Section 377 and give the LGBT community in India their right to lead their lives with dignity.