The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Chennai and Bengaluru staged protests against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which criminalises gay sex over the weekend.
Under a 155-year-old British colonial law called Section 377, “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” – widely interpreted to refer to as gay sex in India – is punishable by up to ten years in jail.
Even though the Supreme Court has since recognised transgender people as a third gender and called on the government to ensure their equal rights, it does not recognise their right to have sexual relationships.
On Friday, Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor introduced a private member’s bill in the Lok Sabha to legalise gay sex, but other lawmakers prevented any discussion on dropping Section 377 from the IPC.
Bharatiya Janata Party MPs pressed for a voting system and scored victory, as the bill’s introduction was disallowed by a majority of 71 members.
The LGBT community along with activists protested on the streets of Chennai holding placards reflecting their agitation over democratic behaviour of the lawmakers.
“As a sexual minority, we are citizens of this country and we deserve equal rights,” said a protester, Vikranth.
Similar scenes were witnessed in Bengaluru. The LGBT community held up placards which read messages like ‘nation wants to know, when’ll 377 go?’, ‘when will our good days come?’, ‘I voted for you but you let me down’, etc.
“We see this is a particularly shameful development. Mr. Modi keeps on saying; he makes of fun of Manmohan Singh for his silence and today we believe that Mr. Modi is silent on the constitutional rights of the section of Indian population. Millions of people in this country are asking Mr. Modi when will you break your silence. When will you tell us that LGBT people are full citizens of this country?” asked Shailesh.
Many of the country’s sexual minorities – especially transgender people who are more visible – live on fringes of society, are forced into sex trade, and face discrimination in employment and basic services such as health and education.
In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that Section 377 violated constitutional guarantees for equality, privacy and freedom of expression, ending the ban on same-sex relationships and sparking a new era in openness about homosexuality.
But the decision was challenged by religious groups, and the Supreme Court threw out that decision four years later saying that only Parliament could change Section 377.