The Union health ministry on Monday backtracked on its support to amending Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that criminalises homosexuality.
Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad asked for a wider consensus including a Parliament debate, because of the religious sensitivities involved. “There should be a general debate where our heritage as well as diseases are considered,” Azad said.
Earlier, Law Minister Veerappa Moily had said that the government would not take a decision to repeal Section 377 of in a hurry.
Popularly referred to as the anti-sodomy law, Section 377 penalises “voluntary carnal intercourse against the order of nature with a man, woman or animal.”
Though punishment — which includes 10 years to life imprisonment and fines — is rare, the law is misused to extort money from homosexuals, bisexuals and trans-genders.
The health ministry has been leading the demand to amend the section on the grounds that it obstructs HIV-prevention messages from reaching the target audience.
Health activists are furious. “After supporting the demand for an amendment, the ministry is back-pedalling. In a secular country, how can you place religion over human rights?” said Anjali Gopalan, director of the Naz Foundation India Trust that had filed a petition against the Section in the Delhi High Court in 2001. “We are waiting for the judgement,” said Gopalan.