In yet another blow to the equality movement in India, parliament today voted 71 to 24 against the private bill submitted by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor that called for the reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
In 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377 and called in unconstitutional, a move that was welcomed by the LGBTQ community and straight allies in India and across the world. Sadly, in 2012, the Supreme Court overruled the HC decision and said that if the government wanted the law to go, it was up to parliament to amend it, effectively turning it from a judicial matter into a legislative one.
Considering there have been widespread calls to scrap Section 377 not just from activists but also politicians including Arun Jaitley and P. Chidambaram, one would think that this long-outdated law had finally seen its last days, but clearly that doesn’t seem to be the case. While India is firmly charting a course to be taken as a serious player on the world stage as far as its economic policies go, the government has once again clearly established that it does not care for the social wellbeing of its citizens.
Section 377 has been used as an effective tool to threaten and extort the LGBTQ community since its inception. India is already extremely conservative and sadly seems to be becoming more so every day—and when you add the unwanted trouble and attention that Section 377 brings (especially to the millions of closeted LGBTQ individuals) it is a powerful tool in the hands of a corrupt bureaucracy and police force.
We fail to see how the logic behind Section 377 remains pertinent in the year 2015. Why is what happens in private between consenting adults the business of the state? Further, what does the state have to gain by continually relegating the LGBTQ community to the sidelines? At best, the government’s continual dismissal of basic human rights to the community can be seen as a blatant disregard to the right to equality enshrined in our constitution, and at worst, an almost pathological mania at subverting anything that does not conform to its version of a saffronised, mainstream India.
What next, is the question. Like with most other policies, there seems to be a great difference between what the people want and what the government thinks they want. As far as saying India is not ready for gay rights, it’s more like the government is not ready for gay rights. There has definitely been an increase in visibility for the community over the years and society’s mindset seems to be changing for the better—and change always starts small. Once that happens, perhaps India will see some true change with regards to LGBTQ rights beyond annual pride marches and monthly gay-themed nights.
Words: Neville Bhandara