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Leading the charge against an “archaic and repressive” law that criminalises gay sex, top Congress leaders, including Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, on Thursday came out strongly against a Supreme Court judgment upholding this law. Stirred into action, the government was contemplating an ordinance to reverse the verdict.
The ruling party’s clear stand also appeared to have caught the BJP off-guard with the opposition party refusing to make its view clear and instead, demanding an all-party meeting to ascertain if there was political unanimity on reversing the SC judgment. Issue gets political
In a shock decision, the top court on Wednesday set aside a 2009 Delhi high court verdict that had effectively de-criminalised gay sex between consenting adults in private. The SC ruled that the lower court had overstepped its authority and the 1860 law was still valid.
Law minister Kapil Sibal said the government has not abandoned efforts to make homosexuality legal, and that the country must take swift action to challenge the Supreme Court decision. Sibal said he was for decriminalising homosexuality, hinting that the government could seek a judicial review of Wednesday's Supreme Court decision or that Parliament could enact a new law.
"We need to take quick and firm action," he told reporters, noting that millions of people in India do not want homosexuality to be a criminal offense.
Government sources indicated an ordinance could be brought to amend section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, under which conviction attracts a maximum sentence of life in prison. However, this could happen only after Parliament’s winter session gets over next week.
This bold new Congress is a departure from its old ‘safe’ self. The firmness is an expansion of its inclusive politics, which now includes sexual minorities. It is also in tune with Rahul’s out-of-the-box initiatives. Congress old guards are already murmuring in protest, though none may come out openly.
Finance minister P Chidambaram said the Supreme Court verdict was “wrong” and all options would be looked into to set it right.
Also expressing disappointment at the ruling, Sonia said, “The high court had wisely removed an archaic, represssive and unjust law that infringed on the basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution.”
HT Edit: Old prejudices are resurfacing
HT Analysis: Section 377, a push back into the closet?
“I hope Parliament will address this issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India, including those directly affected by this judgment.”
Rahul Gandhi said “matters of personal freedom should be left to individuals... I think I would agree more with the high court… The country is known for its freedom of expression”.
Demanding a review of the judgment, the Aam Aadmi Party said the behaviour of consenting adults cannot be left at the mercy of the police. However, other parties chose to remain silent.
“The Supreme Court has said Parliament can legislate on this issue. The government can call an all-party meeting and we will tell our view there after seeing the government proposal,” was senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj’s guarded response.
In a Hindustantimes.com poll conducted on Wednesday, over 80% of the respondents answered in the negative, when asked whether they agree with the Supreme Court's order of criminalising homosexuality again. See poll results here.*Hover over the image for details