Indian Supreme Court Decriminalises Homosexuality

The 158 year-old colonial-era law has been overturned by the Indian Supreme Court ending an era of fear and persecution for India's LGBT+ community.

India's Supreme Court decriminlises homosexuality
Image: REUTERS/Stringer

India’s Supreme Court has overturned a 158 year-old colonial-era law, Section 377, which banned homosexual acts.

The verdict was announced in Delhi on Thursday morning and was met by cheers from crowds of India’s LGBT+ community and supporters who had gathered on the lawn outside the building.


India's Supreme Court decriminlises homosexuality
People belonging to the LGBT+ community celebrate after the Supreme Court’s verdict of decriminalising gay sex and revocation of the Section 377 law, at an NGO in Mumbai, India. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

The first word came from a young woman, Smriti, who shouted “it’s in our favour,” having seen a text message from a journalist who was inside the court.

“It’s a positive. I mean there’s so much work to be done, but it’s a great first step,” the university student, 19, said. “We’re not criminals in our own country.”


India's Supreme Court decriminlises homosexuality
REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Section 377, is a 158-year-old colonial-era law under which a same-sex relationship was deemed an “unnatural offence” and was punishable by a 10-year jail term.

In 2009, a New Delhi High Court declared Section 377 unconstitutional but the judgment was overturned four years later by the Supreme Court, which stated that amending or repealing the law was a matter for parliament, not the High Court.


India's Supreme Court decriminlises homosexuality
Badges against the Section 377 law of the Indian Penal Code are pictured on a table at the entrance of an NGO, in Mumbai, India. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Activists say that Section 377 was seldom used to convict men (with fewer than 200 being convicted under the law in 2013), being more frequently it was used to blackmail and intimidate LGBT+ Indians.

In January 2018, it was announced that a large group of justices would convene to reconsider the law, following a petition by five LGBT+ people who said they were living in fear of being prosecuted.


India's Supreme Court decriminlises homosexuality
Anwesh Pokkuluri, Romel Barel and Krishna Reddy M, petitioners challenged Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, pose outside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi, India. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Ritu Dalmia, one of the five LBGTI Indians who put their name to a legal petition that succeeded on Thursday, said the verdict made her feel hope once again.

“I was turning into a cynical human being with very little belief in the system, but honestly this has really shown once again that, in the end, we are a functional democracy where freedom of choice, speech and rights still exist,” she said.

Indian culture was said to be accepting of homosexuality before the imposition of conservative Victorian laws during the reign of the British empire in India.

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