India's gays prepare to join the rainbow nation

Government ready to repeal law drafted under the Raj which made homosexuality a criminal offence

The Indian government is considering rewriting a law drafted more than 100 years ago that criminalises homosexuality. The news emerged as the capital, Delhi, held its second gay rights march yesterday and other cities across the nation played host to similar parades.

Reports suggested that senior ministers would meet soon to discuss how to repeal the so-called Section 377 that makes it a criminal offence for couples of the same gender to have sex. "This section is an absurdity in today's world," a government source said. "The government will certainly move to repeal it."

The battle to change the law has been long and slow. The legislation was drafted by Lord Macaulay in 1860 during British colonial rule and states that "whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment".

Campaigners have long complained that the law is outdated and repressive, saying that while there have been few prosecutions during the past 20 years, it has been used to harass gay men. In 2004, a lawsuit filed by Voices Against 377, an umbrella group of non-governmental organisations working on issues from women's rights to Aids prevention, was filed at the Delhi High Court. The matter is still pending.

"Let's not hold our breath on this," said Angali Gopolan, head of the Naz Foundation, one of the groups in the lawsuit. "I am hopeful but I would rather wait until we have a result." She said the new re-elected government led by the Congress Party might have felt it had a greater mandate to act. "Perhaps it is more sensitive," she said. "Let's hope they follow through."

In a country that once produced explicit treatises on the sexual arts only to have emerged as a conservative, buttoned-down society, gay rights have rarely been a priority for the authorities. The rights movement is in its infancy and gay life is driven largely underground. Eunuchs, the so-called third sex and once an essential part of the Mughal court, also face discrimination and abuse. Campaigners say driving homosexuality underground makes it far harder to counter Aids and provide homosexual men with treatment should they become infected.

Few Indian celebrities are openly identified as gay. One of the few, the Delhi-based fashion designer Rohit Bal, who has dressed Uma Thurman and Naomi Campbell, recently told a television interviewer that he knew many ministers, businessmen and society leaders who were gay. He said he also understood the pressures that kept them in the closet. "I wish there were more prominent people who were open about such things," he added. "Personally, I don't give a flying fuck what people think about me. If anyone wants to judge me, judge me for what I am and what I have achieved and not for whom I am sleeping with."

The organisers of Delhi's second gay parade had been encouraged by an unexpectedly large turnout last year. They were hoping for even larger numbers this time and had organised street theatre and a wedding band. Other cities such as Bangalore and Kolkata have been hosting similar marches for years.

Leslie Esteves, a gay rights activist and march organiser, said: "Last time, because it all came through at the last minute, we didn't have enough time to spread the word. But this time we are prepared. There were people not only from Delhi but also from other states in the north."

The move to review the law appears to be driven by the Home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram. His predecessor, Shivraj Patil, was opposed to changing it. Many in the government said altering the law would help end discrimination against gay people and could help fight Aids, but Mr Patil claimed a repeal would encourage the sexual abuse of children. The law is also used to prosecute paedophiles.

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, asked departments to review the government's position and resolve any differences, as a result of the case being heard by the High Court.

"It should have been done long ago," a government official told The Indian Express. "The provisions are beyond any reason or logic. But now since there is a consensus emerging the decision to repeal is only a matter of time."

Equal rights? A pink guide to Asia

* Pakistan

Homosexuality is still a criminal offence: Islamic law prescribes 100 lashes or death by stoning for sodomy, and Pakistan's civil code requires a minimum of two years in prison. But gay couples in cities such as Karachi and Islamabad are increasingly finding the courage to set up home together.



* Thailand

Bangkok's ladyboys are world-renowned, and Thai society is relatively relaxed about homosexuality, yet under the law it was considered a "mental problem" until seven years ago. But households headed by gay couples lack the legal protection of those headed by heterosexual ones.



*China

China has not been quick off the mark about gay rights: homosexuality was classified as a "hooligan act" until 1997 and a "mental disorder" until 2001. But in the past few years it has been making up for lost time. Gay tourism to the country is growing. The launch of Go Pink China saw the first China-based travel company offering gay-friendly tours, and this month Shanghai celebrated its first Gay Pride week.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Engineer - Powered Access

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They pride themselves that they...

Recruitment Genius: Pharmacy Branch Manager

£19000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This pharmacy group are looking...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This design and print company a...

Recruitment Genius: Lift and Elevator Contract Manager - London

£38000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence