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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.

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.