Ahead of annual marches by gays and lesbians in many Indian cities on Sunday, there is good news for them — having sex may no longer be a crime.
Signalling a major shift in its once-unyielding stand, the government has for the first time indicated it is willing to review a controversial 150- year-old law that makes homosexuality a criminal offence.
A meeting between the Home, Health and Law ministers is likely to be convened soon to discuss the issue of either completely repealing or amending section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which provides for 10 years imprisonment for “unnatural sex”. That includes homosexuality.
“The issue was being discussed in Ministry of Home Affairs and Health Ministry and it will come before the Law Ministry also,” said union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily. “The Home minister will convene a meeting of the three ministers soon.”
Earlier this month, Moily said “some sections of the IPC are outdated and may require a fresh look.”
Home Minister P. Chidambaram will chair the meeting, which is likely to evolve a fresh stand acceptable to all three ministries.
The flexibility in the government stand follows the change of guard in all the three key ministries.
While Chidambaram and Moily are understood to be in favour of a fresh look on the issue, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad hasn’t yet revealed what he thinks.
Previous Home and Law ministers Shivraj Patil and H. R. Bhardwaj strongly opposed any change in the controversial IPC section.
“The purpose of section 377 IPC was to provide a healthy environment in the society by criminalising unnatural sexual activities against the order of nature. The Health ministry is welcome to take all steps for ensuring better health of the people, but no tampering with well laid down legal procedure can be allowed without a firm reasoning,” Bhardwaj had told HT in October last year.
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This was why the UPA government in its first term refused a proposal from former Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss to make gay sex legal.
The Health ministry had argued that the provisions of the existing law “push HIV people underground, which makes such risky sexual practices go unnoticed”.
The Home and Health ministries had taken opposite stands last year, in their replies to the Delhi high court, on a petition filed by an NGO called the Naaz Foundation.
The Home ministry had strongly opposed any change in the IPC, while the Health ministry was in favour of scrapping the controversial section.
The scales were finally tilted in favour of the Home ministry when the law ministry supported its stand and made it clear that the government was not in favour of any change in the existing law.
The arguments in the Delhi high court are complete and the verdict is expected soon.