India scraps colonial-era ban on gay sex in landmark ruling

PTI file

PTI file

Thursday's ruling re-examines a 2013 judgement that upheld a colonial-era law, known as section 377, under which gay sex is categorised as an "unnatural offence".

"And we are all of concurring opinion", said Chief Justice Dipak Misra as he began reading out the unanimous and historic judgment of the five-judge bench to a packed court room.

Justice Chandrachud was speaking on the topic, "Rule of Law in Constitutional Democracy", at the 19th Annual Bodh Raj Sawhny Memorial Oration 2018, organised by National Law University, Delhi.

'We feel as equal citizens now, ' activist Shashi Bhushan said. 'What happens in our bedroom is left to us'.

In its ruling, the court said sexual orientation was a "biological phenomenon" and that discrimination on that basis violated fundamental rights. As of past year, more than 70 countries had such laws, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

The law has manifested itself in the form of harassment - by police, families, medical professionals and others - who have backed their discrimination and harassment with this law.

The judges in the case had previously said that homosexuals in India faced deep-rooted trauma and live in fear.

"The sodomy law that became the model everywhere, from Uganda to Singapore to the United Kingdom itself, premiered in India, becoming the confusing and dehumanizing standard replicated around the world", she said in a statement, saying "today's historic outcome will reverberate across India and the world".

"The view taken by the SC [the Supreme Court] in Suresh Kumar Koushal [judgment] is impermissible, " the Supreme Court ruled. India was the most populous country in the world that still had a law on the books criminalizing gay sex.

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Transgendered people known as "hijras", for example, have always been a common sight in India.

This covered 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 behavior illegal.

There has been a very vocal campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in India. India now has openly gay celebrities, and some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues.

The Supreme Court said aspects of Section 377 dealing with unnatural sex with animals and children would remain in force, the Press Trust of India reported.

Thursday's ruling came after the Supreme Court declared a constitutional right to privacy in an unrelated case, opening the door for judges to reinterpret Section 377.

"Why do politicians sometimes hand over power to judges and we see that happening in the Supreme Court every day".

Thursday's judgement is a shot in the arm for India's gay community. And we'll fight for our rights, definitely.

"The UN in India sincerely hopes that the court's ruling will be the first step towards guaranteeing the full range of fundamental rights to LGBTI persons".

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