The Union Home Ministry took a step in right direction by publicly saying that the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises homosexuality should be amended or repealed. The Law Minister also confirmed that soon a meeting of the Home,Health and Law Ministers will be convened.He pointed out that many sections of the IPC are outdated and government is exploring possibilities of amending such laws and updating legal provisions so that they were in tune with the times.
But soon the statements of religious Right opposing the move began to appear in the media. The Islamic Clergy, the Christian Church and the Viswa Hindu Parishad came out with statements opposing homosexuality as against God and religion.
“It (homosexuality) is not at all acceptable and agreeable. It is against the tenets of bible. Man and Woman were created in God’s own image. Homosexuality is against the society,” Rt Rev Abraham Mar Paulos Episcopa, Head of Marthoma Syrian Church of Malabar diocesan told PTI.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad is also opposed to any dilution in the Section 377 of IPC.
“It is against the culture and family system in India. It will result in spread of number of diseases. But we will see what changes, if at all, are introduced in the section,” said Vinod Bansal, spokesperson of Delhi unit of the Parishad.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, a prominent body of Muslim community too has hit out at the government’s proposed move, saying the repeal of the section would create “sexual anarchy” in the society.
The confused and unsure Government began back pedalling.
While Union law minister Veerappa Moily claimed he had been “misquoted” as saying the government was planning to legalise homosexuality, health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke of the need for “debate and consensus” on the issue before any move.
“I can simply say that there should be more debate — public debate, Parliament debate,” Ghulam Nabi Azad said at a press conference here. “There has to be consensus. The negative and positive has to be evaluated and then a conclusion should be evolved
This is a cowardly way of putting amendments to section 377 in the cold storage as consensus appears unlikely.
The attitude of the new Health Minister is in stark contrast with that of his predecessor Dr Ramadoss who said in August 2008:
“Structural discrimination against those who are vulnerable to HIV such as sex workers and MSM must be removed if our prevention, care and treatment programmes are to succeed,” he said. “Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises Men who have sex with Men, must go”.
Interestingly it was the then Home Minister Mr Shivraj Patil who opposed it
When the controversy and the tug of war between the Home Minister and the Health Minister occurred regarding this issue last year,the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proved his label of being weak by not taking leadership and coming to a conclusion of his own on what is the correct and progressive measure.Instead he asked the two ministers to reach a consensus on their own which was equivalent to shelving the issue
India is among a fairly large group of countries in Asia and Africa [shown red in the map below]which still has laws criminalising homosexuality. With the UPA Government not showing signs of bravery and statesmanship India may remain in this group for some more time.
Let me conclude this post with quotes from the editorial of The Hindu:
Are the winds of change that seemed to be blowing through the corridors of the central government on the issue of ending legal discrimination against gay sex petering out? Hope that the infamous Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code would be either quickly repealed or suitably amended — raised when the Union Home Ministry boldly described it as an “absurdity in the present day” — have receded with the Law Minister, Veerappa Moily, announcing that the Centre was in no hurry to take such a step. Calls for a parliamentary debate to reach a ‘wider consensus’ on a basic issue of human rights and equal justice are nothing but an excuse to put off a hard decision on ending an obnoxious colonial-era provision that has absolutely no place in the statute book of a modern democratic and secular state
Having promised to review this provision, the government must not give in to the pressure of religious fundamentalists, moral obscurantists, and others who argue that Indian society is not ready to accept such change. Especially on non-negotiable social issues, governments must lead public opinion — not tail its least enlightened strands or go for the lowest common denominator
Let me add that this may be the time for the ‘Dynasty’ to intervene.If they prove that they are courageous enough to implement this progressive measure in India there may be some justification in them claiming for Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy.