Scrap unjust law: Fresh petition against Section 377 bolsters fight for LGBT rights

New Delhi June 29:In a fresh boost to the fight for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, prominent members of the LGBT community have filed a petition with the Supreme Court against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexual sex. Petitioners dancer N S Johar, journalist Sunil Mehra, chef Ritu Dalmia, hotelier Aman Nath and business executive Ayesha Kapur have sought the quashing of this law on the grounds that it violates their sexual autonomy, privacy and dignity. This is the first time people who are directly affected by Section 377 have challenged its constitutional validity while openly asserting their sexual orientation.

The latest petition comes on top of others filed by Naz Foundation and gay rights sympathisers such as filmmaker Shyam Benegal that are already pending before the court. Together they mark a growing social consensus against Section 377 making criminals out of consenting homosexual adults. This archaic penal provision has no place in 21st century India. British law, from which IPC was originally derived, has long decriminalised homosexual sex. Even neighbouring China made consensual homosexuality legal in 1997.

In India, following a brief period of reprieve after the Delhi high court’s 2009 decision to decriminalise homosexuality, the Supreme Court in December 2013 had upheld the constitutional validity of Section 377. It was only this February that a curative petition was referred to a five-judge bench by the apex court. Meanwhile, politicians cutting across party lines are increasingly voicing their support for decriminalising homosexuality. This includes Congress’s Shashi Tharoor, BJP’s Arun Jaitley and Ram Madhav, and AAP and the Left parties. Taken together, it’s high time authorities admit that Section 377 is a legal abomination and scrap it. The state has no business dictating the sexual behaviour of consenting adults.