India’s Gay-Rights Movement Rises Up After Supreme Court Criminalizes Homosexuality

Both politicians and activists decried a controversial ruling by India's Supreme Court that reinstated a colonial-era ban on homosexuality

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Serena De Sanctis / Demotix / Corbis

LGBT activists protest against India's Supreme Court decision in Delhi, on Dec. 11, 2013.

A controversial Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday morning that reinstated an archaic colonial law criminalizing homosexuality incited outrage among activists and gay-rights supporters in India. Hundreds gathered at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi’s popular protest hub, to protest the ruling. A truly mixed crowd, many of the protesters were not from the LGBT community. They came in hordes from universities and colleges to champion civil liberties. “This is not about homosexuality but about democratic rights,” said Samita Raj, a 19-year-old student at the protest. “And the right to be.”

The mood at Jantar Mantar resembled a different moment last year, when the youth of India had congregated to demand justice for the gang rape and murder of a young medical intern. It was a comforting sign that from a fringe issue, India’s gay movement has become the subject of mainstream debate and mass support. “Today when I speak to young people in colleges, they say, ‘We know how you feel.’ And that’s a huge achievement for the movement,” Gautam Bhan, a 33-year-old gay-rights activist, told TIME. “The ruling cannot set aside the gains we have made in the last decade, especially after 2009.” The Supreme Court in Wednesday’s ruling had said that changing a law was the responsibility of the government.

Whether the Delhi High Court had overstepped its mandate four years back is a matter of debate. Its historic judgment in 2009, which decriminalized homosexuality in the country, was something of a watershed moment for gay rights in India. Many more young people had come out of the closet. Harish Iyer, a Mumbai-based equal-rights activist, says there was a more than 100% increase in people wanting to come out of the closet after 2009. Iyer says that before 2009 he used to receive around two distress calls a week from people wanting to come out. Now he receives around six calls a day. “What are you doing now? Pushing them right back in?” he asks. “It’s not going to work. People who are out will be out louder and stronger.”

The other surprising takeaway from the ruling was the unexpected show of solidarity from the Indian government. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said the ruling flew in the face of a “modern liberal India.”

“The high court had wisely removed an archaic, repressive and unjust law that infringed on the basic human rights enshrined in our constitution,” Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said in a statement. “This constitution has given us a great legacy, a legacy of liberalism and openness, that enjoin us to combat prejudice and discrimination of any kind.”

Law Minister Kapil Sibal, after an initial noncommittal reaction, later tweeted that the government was considering its options to restore the 2009 verdict. “It gives us great hope,” says Anjali Gopalan, founder and executive director of the Naz Foundation, an Indian nonprofit that works on HIV-AIDS and sexual health, who had filed the original lawsuit in the Delhi High Court. “A lot of young people have come out of the closet post-2009. We can’t push them back in.”

While politicians and activists mull their options, India’s LGBT community is emerging stronger from the ruling. “We feel much emboldened by the fact that we are a heterogeneous crowd now,” says Iyer. “Also, what do we have to lose now? You have pushed me down so low that from here on I can only look upwards.”

79 comments
AnupamaDivakar-biswas
AnupamaDivakar-biswas

How dare they take the moral ground when they themselves are corrupt in and out. They cannot decide for anyone. If they give such verdicts i feel really bad for the people who fought for our freedom. What kind of freedom is this where an individual cannot express himself/herself freely. They better take the verdict back as they are going to be in a lot of trouble otherwise...

ToniMassari
ToniMassari

We will boycott Indian products, tourism and exports of every kind until this bill is repealed!

JaySit
JaySit

India.  Now even more backward than in 2009.

Osho Lall
Osho Lall

At least gay people have each other for the 'do's ' behind closed doors. Seeing how ugly and old you are, i presume you've only had your hand to give you company behind your closed door.

Ryan J. Farrick
Ryan J. Farrick

Most of them aren't trying to bother other people. Even if you're not gay, you should be able to imagine how it's an affront to one's dignity to be told that your relationship is such an abomination that you could be thrown in jail alongside thieves and murderers for having love.

Ryan J. Farrick
Ryan J. Farrick

What's the point of having checks and balances in government if nobody makes use of them? You'd be living in the Dark Ages if laws were never challenged.

Rafael Dominador
Rafael Dominador

hahaha their tradition is strongly rooted not even invasions and long time colonizations by different countries changed their ways! for thay i salute them but not giving way to gays is unacceptable well that includes arrange marriage and monkies invading their department of justies hahhaa

Nadir Aboobacker
Nadir Aboobacker

Ingesting food via the mouth is common and natural.If smeone wishes to eat through the nose,it must be called unnatural as such a practise is a health hazard to the person.If this person insists that this risky mode of ingestion is a personal matter,he or she may independently go ahead and persist with it.But cannot demand the constitution of a law to legalise the act.The supreme court verdict is a welcome move that supports the laws of nature.

newajay
newajay

I think supreme court has done very well. Anything against natural law can't stand for long and not good for society.


There will always be some handful of people to oppose for every good work.

Vijay Naik
Vijay Naik

Im an Indian........I totally agree with Luke.As the citizen of India I have the highest RESPECT FOR OUR SUPREME COURT.NOBODY DESERVES A RIGHT TO CHALLENGE OUR SUPREME COURT.

Abdul Naeem Quraishi
Abdul Naeem Quraishi

This is sad. Hinduism has a lot to teach India ..... Gay culture is definitely not one of them !!!!!

BinuJoseph
BinuJoseph

all the people talking against it here are either europeans or americans, you can ask your gay presidents to give assylum for the gays from india in your gay countries

Shinyale George
Shinyale George

India has done a right thing against this anal practice. If u detest it then also use an eye to eat food.

Ali Shastry Haslan Husain
Ali Shastry Haslan Husain

Anal sex between two consenting men will produce next generation of gays. What's wrong with that?

Vince Macias
Vince Macias

Anyone who actually cares about the sex life of consenting adults and thinks it should be controlled is a pathetic, sad person.

Hisham Rizvi
Hisham Rizvi

very well done !! whoever the judge was......

David Macků
David Macků

I don´t know how about you but I don´t live for sex and so I am not talking about my sex life in public. i have no reason to tell other people how I do it or don´t want to know how other poeple do it, if they have same partner or they want to have sex with anybody who is available. If someone feels he need to shout it out loud he/she is gay, why not but why bother other people. Especially in the country like India where it´s now criminalized. Let them do it without telling anybody else. Do you see any change in the future? I don´t - they will do it again - the wrong way... :-(

Ryan J. Farrick
Ryan J. Farrick

Good thing you're not gay then, eh? Social progress happens because people try to enact change - not because they sit at home and hope, some day in the future, it'll be okay to live normally again. India has enough problems as it is, and its only taken a step backwards. While I do agree that sexual orientation is nothing to be proud of, I also think that somebody shouldn't have to live in shame because they want a relationship with another consenting adult of the same sex.

David Macků
David Macků

I am not gay and if I was, i would not talk about it until it´s decriminalized again. By the way - there is nothing on it to be proud of...

Ryan J. Farrick
Ryan J. Farrick

It was decriminalized in India for several years. You're not even making a good argument - there aren't roving execution squads in New Delhi, so far as I know, and there probably aren't going to be serious repercussions for most protesters. What you're essentially is saying is that, because the justice system is broken, its victims should stay home with their mouths closed. I can think of a few things that have happened in India recently that wound up causing a public furor, that resulted in some reforms, or, at the very least, a massive challenging of injustice.

David Macků
David Macků

OK, go to India, protest with them, tell everybody you are not gay but support gays and then quietly wait until some armed forces find you, arrrest you, torture you etc. India is not a country where public have any power or at least in this case. Be proud to be gay in the country where it´s accepted, in India it´s criminal so beware your taste...

Donald Burkett
Donald Burkett

I feel the same way about people like you, still living and thinking like its the dark ages. No rights for people I disagree with, That is selfish on your part. Sad to be you.

Ryan J. Farrick
Ryan J. Farrick

So they should sit at home and accept that India just backpedaled on progress? I'm not gay, but if I were in India, I'd be out on the streets with everybody else. Regardless of how often this law is enforced, nobody should have the threat of jail being hung over them because they're a man who prefers men or a woman who likes women.

Ryan J. Farrick
Ryan J. Farrick

India has a terribly outdated justice system and actually just managed to take a step backward.

Nadir Aboobacker
Nadir Aboobacker

Alas supreme court of india took the right decision..proud to be an indian..govt of india shud find time to treat all those idiotic mentals talking for those gays,homos etc..

TD Matthews
TD Matthews

Hey if it happened the divine meant it and if it fades the divine meant that too. Look at lifes examples. We check out the far extremes if only in sight or imagination to see if we prefer but then return to balance. Like cornering on a bike one experiences the corner but is still always i perfect balance. The corner is an experience. Gays are those enjoying that experience. As fhe urge appeared so may it naturally fade away as generations awaken to inner balance. THIS is harmoniously realizing all things are here for as long as the divine wishes and fade precisely when required, rellaced by more enjoyable and fulfilling experiences as humans evolve continuously, eternally towards more and better in perception u derstanding and enjoyment. Ignoring that which you do not desire is as simple as focusing your valuable mind energy and considerable personal power on something that lifts and empowers you to feel good and more importantly attract more good things people and events. Maintain focus on these uplifting things and the undesired fade from your awareness then your life them others as society adjusts back to global harmonic balance to reflect spiritual balance for all. Cheers and sagacity for all.

ToniMassari
ToniMassari

... But we are not going to MWAAAAAAH!  Keep wishing your life away sucker!

ToniMassari
ToniMassari

Aw Ryan, why don't you take a look at the inside of your toilet bolw... flush while you're at it... you'll find yourself right at home!

NandaKishoreN
NandaKishoreN

I didn't know that people of Philippines have got so much grudge against India.

ssddwwee2
ssddwwee2

Appeal to nature is a logical fallacy. Not everything that is natural is good (such as poison, suffering, pain, death, and so on.) while not everything that is unnatural is bad (the computer you are using right now wouldn't be possible without synthetic, i.e. man-made materials). Please try to use critical thinking to evaluate things, not defensive mechanisms.

xfact
xfact

@newajay Define "natural law" by some credible source please... i am genuine interested. 

xfact
xfact

Nobody is challenging the Supreme Court, they are challenging the verdict, recently UN high-commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Pillay said this verdict is a departure from Supreme Court's long standing tradition of just judgements.  So there you go... 

xfact
xfact

It is a secular democratic country my dear, it does not have a state religion neither its laws shall be influenced by them. 

xfact
xfact

@BinuJoseph I support LGBT rights and I am by birth and residence an Indian. 

xfact
xfact

lol ignorance. 

xfact
xfact

If they don't talk and shout, they will never be able to stand for themselves and will be depicted as 'criminals' forever. They are proud of themselves not and your sexual orientation is part of your identity. 

xfact
xfact

It is a democracy and people are just doing what a functional democracy should respect, they are making themselves heard and not just as some benign white noise but petitions have been filed, review requests have been submitted etc. 



And forces of the law cannot arrest you without a proper warrant. 

xfact
xfact

Yep, British authored penal codes from 1860s, quite old for 2013... 

RyanChester
RyanChester

Homosexuality has been around in all cultures long before any religion could impose their hateful messages on to the people. Homosexuality is also found in most species that inhabit this planet. Could you please enlighten me as to how this is unnatural.

xfact
xfact

All the major medical and psychological associations including WHO don't agree with you.