Three weeks after 49 people were killed in a gay club in Florida, the United Nations Rights Council agreed on Thursday to appoint an independent investigator to help protect homosexuals and transgenders from violence and discrimination. Mexico sponsored the UN text and was backed by US and European countries. China, Russia, and 16 African and Muslim states rejected it; India, South Africa and the Philippines abstained from voting.
India’s stand is unfortunate but not surprising. Though the UN in 1994 said that sexual orientation could be a ground for discrimination, India still remains among 73 of the international body’s 193 member states that criminalises same-sex relations. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which dates back to 1860, criminalises sexual acts “against the order of nature,” including consensual gay sex among adults. This means that sexual minorities can be arrested and imprisoned for life for their sexual orientation.
In 2009, the Delhi High Court decriminalised consenting homosexual sex between adults but the Supreme Court (SC) overturned the judgment on grounds that amending or repealing Section 377 should be left to Parliament, not the judiciary. Earlier this week, several celebrities approached the SC for quashing Section 377. But judges SA Bobde and Ashok Bhushan said that the petition be placed before the Chief Justice of India to decide whether it can be heard along with a batch of curative petitions on the same subject.
Attempts to decriminalise homosexuality have also met with staunch political Opposition. In March, Parliament voted for the second time in three months against the introduction of a Bill brought by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor to amend the law.
By refusing to take a positive stand on the motion at the UN, India, a member of the body’s human rights council, proclaimed on the international stage that it does not care that the violence and discrimination faced by LGBT people.
On Friday, the government justified its abstention saying the matter is sub-judice. But what the judiciary is examining is the validity of Section 377, not violence against LGBT people. In fact, in the landmark 2014 NALSA vs Union of India judgment, the SC asked the Centre to enact protections for shielding transgender people from oppression and violence.
The justification given by the Centre is part of a broader pattern that was exposed when SC rapped the Centre on Thursday for asking a clarification on whether transgender included lesbian, gay and bisexual people – an excuse used to not implement the protections and quotas mandated under the 2014 NALSA judgment.
This obfuscation confirms what LGBT citizens in India have known for a long time now: That their human rights violations don’t figure in their country’s plans of being an influential global power.