Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss on Wednesday advocated that homosexuality be legalised in India.
“Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalises men who have sex with men, must go,” announced the minister at the 17th International Conference on AIDS in Mexico City
“Structural discrimination against those who are vulnerable to HIV such as sex workers and men having sex with men must be removed if our prevention, care and treatment programmes are to succeed,” he said at the summit.
But the minister’s intentions may come to a nought if another arm of the government, the ministry responsible for implementation of the IPC, has its way.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs says the deletion of Section 377 would open floodgates of delinquent behaviour. Besides, it is also invoked to prosecute people accused of child abuse.
The Law Commission tried to address this concern by incorporating another section to specifically criminalise sexual contact with anyone younger than 16. “The ministry can take a final view after reviewing responses from states to the Law Commission’s suggestions,” a Home Ministry official said.
The contradictory views of the two ministries on this issue are before the Delhi High Court, which is hearing a public interest litigation seeking decriminalization of homosexuality. At the last hearing, upset over the conflicting stands taken by the two ministries, the court had directed the Centre to arrive at a consensus and submit its reply by September 18.
Naz Foundation, a voluntary organization supporting gay rights, which filed the PIL, has sought scrapping of section 377, which can lead to a maximum of life imprisonment for indulging in unnatural sex.
While welcoming Ramadoss's statement, gay right activists in the country are keeping their fingers crossed. "His statement would be meaningful only if the Indian government reconciles the differing views of the two ministries. It cannot have two faces on the same issue," says Arvind Narrain, a lawyer with Alternative Law Forum, a Bangalore-based human rights group.
Added Vikram, member of Gay Bombay, a Mumbai-based gay rights group: "Scrapping Section 377 is just the first step. We'll have to collectively work to change society's mindset against gays and lesbians."