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LGBT South Asian Vancouverites to protest Indian court ruling

'Biggest authority in a country of a billion people' says you are no longer acceptable: Harish Murthy

Harish Murthy, coordinator of a Vancouver protest against the Indian Supreme Court's ruling, says he’s not usually a political person, but the Dec 11 decision motivated him to take action. Credit: Courtesy of Harish Murthy

Members of the Lower Mainland’s LGBT community and their allies will gather outside the Consulate General of India Dec 13 to protest an Indian Supreme Court ruling that upheld a colonial-era law that criminalizes gay sex.

The Dec 11 Supreme Court decision set aside the Delhi High Court’s 2009 ruling that decriminalized homosexuality. The new ruling says India’s legislature — not the courts — has the power to change Section 377, a more than 150-year-old measure that prohibits "carnal intercourse against the order of nature."  

Protest organizers say they plan to deliver a letter, addressed to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to the consul general, calling on the government to “take immediate proactive steps to rescind Indian Penal Code 377 and to decriminalize sexual activities between consenting adults, in particular homosexuality.

“We also urge the government of India to enact legislative measures and pass laws in the Indian parliament to provide full equality rights to sexual and gender minorities in all segments of Indian society,” the letter states.

It continues, “We call on the Government of India to recognize the harm this decision will cause the Indian diasporas and NRIs [non-resident Indians] in many countries around the world, who will also be negatively impacted by stereotypes that will cast people of Indian origin everywhere, not just in India, as backward, violent and homophobic, when in fact this is not true of its people but only of the decision of its highest court, and potentially its government.”

Protest co-organizer Fatima Jaffer, of Trikone Vancouver, says there was a sense of optimism after the Delhi High Court’s decision that something positive would result at a national level. She notes that since 2009, there’s been “a buildup” of activism, education and media support.

“One of the things that’s happened now that we have a negative verdict is that it really shows the amount of work that’s been done between then and now to get the society behind this ruling,” she says. “There’s been an unprecedented show of support from religious communities. Everyone’s talking about it, because there was an outpouring of rage from all these organizations, saying this shouldn’t have happened.”

Jaffer says that even government authorities have been talking about protections for gay people.

“And it’s more than homosexuals; it’s straight people who have anal sex, but they are not the ones who are going to be persecuted.”

Harish Murthy, coordinator of the Vancouver protest, tells Xtra that while he’s not usually a political person, the Supreme Court’s decision motivated him to take action.

Murthy, who hails from Chennai in southern India, says he’s noted the intensity of the reaction in the wake of the ruling and decided to organize a protest here as a form of solidarity with those who are “not in agreement with these sort of outdated ideas of what is acceptable and what is not.”

“The biggest authority in a country of a billion people [is saying] you are no longer acceptable as you are and the very essence of you is illegal. That’s a very hard thing to take,” Murthy says.

In the wake of the decision, hundreds of LGBT Indians and their allies have taken to the streets in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore to express their outrage at what they see as a major setback for human rights in the country.

Other critics include the head of India’s ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi; several government ministers; the UN's high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay; and The Hindu, Times of India, The Indian Express and other media.

In a statement, Gandhi says she’s “disappointed” with the court’s decision, calling the law “archaic” and “repressive.”

“I hope that Parliament will address this issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India, including those directly affected by this judgment,” she says in a marked departure from the government’s hands-off approach to the Delhi High Court’s ruling in 2009. 

In her own statement, the UN’s Pillay calls the ruling “a significant step backwards for India.”

“Criminalizing private, consensual same-sex sexual conduct violates the rights to privacy and to non-discrimination enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India has ratified," she adds.

Some Indian activists and observers, like Vikram Doctor, appeared pessimistic about the parliament’s willingness to take up the issue, especially with elections looming in 2014. 

In its Dec 11 ruling, the Supreme Court noted that a law commission report recommended the deletion of Section 377, but the legislature “has chosen not to amend the law or revisit it.” Nor has the state appealed the Delhi High Court ruling, it says.

The Delhi High Court's 2009 ruling states that Section 377, "insofar as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution," specifically, the right to personal liberty, equality before the law and protection against discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, respectively.

“We hold that sexual orientation is a ground analogous to sex, and that discrimination on sexual orientation is not permitted under Article 15,” the judgment states.

But the Supreme Court ruled that Section 377 “does not criminalize a particular people or identity or orientation. It merely identifies certain acts which if committed would constitute an offense.”

Protest against Indian Penal Code 377

Fri, Dec 13, 11:30am–1:30pm

Consulate General of India

325 Howe St