In a significant decision, the Supreme Court on Tuesday referred the plea against section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to a five-judge constitutional bench. Various members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community from the region have hailed this development as a positive step towards a more constructive discussion around LGBT rights.
“I am happy about the SC development; the mindset of society needs to change as well. The Constitution alone cannot do it. I am overwhelmed by the kind of support we have got from some student unions,” said Dhananjay Chauhan, LGBT pride committee convener for NGO Saksham Trust, and also a leader of the South Asia Human Rights Association (SAHARA).
Another LGBT supporter and a transgender, Kajal Mangal Mukhi, 45, hopes this step will ensure a quality life for them. She said, “It’s a fight for one’s self-respect.”
It is not only the community that is in the mood to celebrate but locals too are excited about the reconsideration of the 2013 judgement that criminalises sexual activity between two consenting adults of the same gender.
Mastan Singh, 27, a master’s student at Panjab University, said, “Those from the LGBT community need equal respect and love. You can’t take away basic rights on the basis of someone’s sexuality. I see a positive change.”
An expert on section 377, Delhi-based lawyer and activist Aditya Bandyopadhyay is hopeful but wants the law to take its own course. He says, “Of course it’s a positive thing; but let’s see how things unfold.”
Preetika Sharma, a Mohali resident and LGBT rights supporter, feels this will leave a positive impact on society. “When such things happen they bring a change in society. It will bring acceptance.”.
Section 377 of the IPC - which dates back to 1860 - defines unnatural offences. It says, ‘Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.’
There have been many positive developments in favour of the LGBT community on the international front. In May 2015, Ireland legalised same-sex marriage. The country which had decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 became the first country to allow same-sex marriage by popular vote.
In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages were legal. Near home, Nepal legalised homosexuality in 2007 and the new Constitution of the country too gives many rights to the LGBT community.
France, UK, Canada, United States, Australia and Brazil have decriminalised homosexuality. Other countries like Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal,South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay allow either same-sex marriage or a civil union.
India currently stands with a host of countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Qatar and Pakistan which criminalises homosexuality.