India’s top court, in a surprise ruling on Wednesday, reinstated Section 377 of the Indian Penal Court (IPC), banning sexual intercourse between same gender couples.
The two member bench, comprising of Justices G. S. Singhvi and S. J. Mukhophadaya – headed by Singhvi – ruled that only Parliament had the power to legislate the issue; further adding that courts could not intervene against the ruling. The full decision can be found here.
Section 377 of the IPC, which prohibits people in India from engaging in “carnal acts against the order of nature” had earlier been overturned in 2009 by a Delhi High Court as being archaic. Under the Section (377), people found guilty of said offence(s) can be imprisoned for life.
The law was first introduced under the colonial era British Penal Code in 1860, and is still in effect to this date.
The criminalization of same gender couples by the imposition of this section has dealt a strong blow to human rights activists across India. The ruling was met by strong protests across the country, with proud gay marches held in several cities.
Banner and anti-SC chants at said marches included slogans such as “out and proud,” “I have the right to choose my life partner”, along with many others.
Outraged Indians also vented against the decision on social media, some even going so far as to post pictures of themselves posing as criminals.
Some even posed as criminals and shared the photos on social media, hoping to drive the painful point home.
According to reporter Preetika Rana, gay activists went down screaming and in tears outside the courtroom when the ruling was given. Section 377 has also been opposed by many religious communities, including the Muslim and Christian communities in India.
LGBT activists, who have for decades fought against conservative Indian mindsets, called the ruling “retrograde, regressive and revolting.” The day was named “Black Day” by activists across India, while newspapers and the Indian media called it an embarrassing throwback on olden times.
Raheel Khursheed, the Director Communications, India for Change.org also added his voice to the fray of protests.
“It brings a discriminatory law that was created over 150 years ago by our colonial masters. It deals a body blow to the very idea of individual choice,” stated the Times of India.
Meenakshi Gangulay, the South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch, said in a statement after the ruling was announced: “The Supreme Court, by reversing the 2009 Delhi High Court ruling that decriminalized same-sex conduct between consenting adults, failed to recognize everyone’s internationally protected rights to privacy and non-discrimination.”
The United States (US) on Wednesday also voiced its concern regarding the ruling.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in a press conference later the same day that “the US places great importance on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people.”
Meanwhile, the ruling Congress Party in India has declared its intention to get the ban overturned.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who also doubles as the government’s chief spokesperson, stated that gay rights legislation could be drawn up following the ruling on Wednesday; but simultaneously warned that such a task would be time consuming.
Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, also urged parliament to bring in legislation.
In a statement regarding the newly reinforced law, Gandhi said, “I hope the parliament will address the issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India , including those directly affected by this judgment.”
However, with general polls just around the corner, it is highly unlikely that the coalition government trying desperately to hang on to its throne will be able to quickly overturn such a ruling in so short a time span.