The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, and the activists who have been fighting for their rights, have been disappointed by the Supreme Court ruling upholding the statute that makes consensual sex between adults of the same gender a punishable offence.
The SC today struck down a Delhi High Court’s 2009 ruling that had decriminalised gay sex, saying section 377 of Indian Penal Code which makes gay sex an offence was constitutionally valid.
“It is a black day for us. I feel so exhausted even thinking that we have been set back by 100 years. What age are we living in?” asked Anjali Gopalan, founder and executive director of the Naz Foundation.
Naz Foundation, a non-profit group, has spearheaded legal activism against the law.
T Tandon, a lawyer appearing for Naz Foundation, said, “We will explore all options, probably look into the option of a review petition.”
Reacting to the ruling, Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist said, “The judgment criminalises gay sex but it can’t take away my right to be gay. The lawmakers or the country shouldn’t be bothered with what happens in the confines of my bedroom, if the act is with my consent.”
Amnesty International called the decision a "body blow to people's rights to equality, privacy and dignity".
Prominent gay rights activist and academic Ashley Tellis said the verdict underscores the importance of rebuilding the earlier movement against section 377 and “other forms of violence against LGBT communities”.
“The Delhi high court order had not called for the repeal of 377, nor did it address any of the issues that actually affect poor and marginalised LGBT communities,” he said.
The Indian-born author Vikram Seth, who is gay, said the judges had taken away "the rights, the prerogatives, and the dignity" of millions of Indians.
"Today is great day for prejudice and inhumanity and a bad day for law and love," he told the NDTV network. "Law develops and love is resilient and prejudice and inhumanity will be beaten back."
Vimal Bhai, an activist with the National Alliance of People’s movement, said, “This is a human rights violation. I want to live in my country freely with my identity. Is it too much to ask?”
The LGBT community frets the ruling makes it susceptible to harassment by the people and extortion by the police.
The Supreme Court ruling puts India back in the company of most nations in the Islamic world and many African countries which criminalise homosexuality. The only country in South Asia where gay sex is now legal is Nepal.
In most Western countries, the debate about same-sex couples has shifted on to their rights to marry.
LGBT community holds protests in 3 metros
Several hundred gay activists gathered in Delhi to protest the verdict, waving rainbow flags and chanting slogans for freedom.
"It will be back to the days when the police harass me for walking out on the street, thinking I am prostitute. At least that had changed a little after the 2009 verdict," said one of the protestors, Vikramaditya, a transgender research scholar.
In Kolkatta, members of the LGBT community demonstrated at the Academy of Fine Arts and pledged to continue fighting for their rights.
“Nobody has a right to decide on anybody’s sexual preferences. It is a person’s right to choose his or her partner, it cannot be the state’s right,” said Titas Bose, a student of Presidency University.
Members and supporters of organisations such as Sappho for Equality, Pratyay Gender Trust, Association of Transgender/ Hijra in Bengal, Kolkata Rainbow Pride Festival, Student Youth Against Gender Violence displayed posters and wore black badges in protest against the ruling.
Some of them covered their faces with black bands. A number of heterosexual persons had also joined the protests.
“This is how liberty is killed,” read a placard one of the protesters was carrying. A young girl was sporting on her right cheek “Love is not a crime” slogan and on her left cheek a design showed a black cross through “377”.
At a smaller gathering in Mumbai, about 50 activists posed with a banner showing "377" with a red line through it.
"I came here expecting to celebrate. But the fight continues," said one 32-year-old woman who gave her name as Raj.
(With agency inputs)