Govt in retreat on gay rights, Azad coy now
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.