Gay activists in India want British apology for sex law

First it was slavery, then it was looting the world's architectural treasures for our museums. Now it is homophobia.

Activists in India are about to demand another apology from Britain. Sixty-six years after Mahatma Gandhi called on the British to leave India from a park in Mumbai, thousands of gay activists will gather in the same park today to call on the British Government to apologise for introducing anti-sodomy laws that still make homosexuality illegal in India today.

Their call will be issued during the first gay pride march in Mumbai for three years and is part of a wider campaign to abolish Section 377 of the Indian penal code which outlaws "unnatural sexual offences" and theoretically punishes anal or oral sex with up to 10 years in prison. In practice no one has been prosecuted under the law in the past two decades but it has been used by officials to counter the work of HIV activists in some Indian states.

Gay rights campaigners also argue that because Section 377 enshrines homophobia in India's legal systems it also legitimises the continued repression of gay men and women in wider Indian society.

A draft copy of the statement seen by The Independent accuses Britain of exporting homophobia during the 19th century when colonial administrators began enforcing Victorian laws and morals on their Indian subjects. It reads: "We call on the British Government to apologise for the immense suffering that has resulted from their imposition of Section 377. And we call on the Indian government to abandon this abhorrent alien legacy of the Raj that should have left our shores when the British did."

Gay rights activists argue that Hindu, Buddhist and early Muslim cultures on the subcontinent had a long history of tolerance towards same-sex relationships.

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