India's supreme court has decriminalized homosexuality in landmark ruling
Today, India made headlines worldwide after overturning one of its most controversial social policies to date.
In a historic verdict, India's Supreme Court has now ruled that gay sex is no longer a criminal offence. A panel of five judges made the decision, overturning a 2013 judgement which upheld section 377, a 157-year-old colonial-era law under which gay sex is categorised as an "unnatural offence".
"Criminalising carnal intercourse is irrational, arbitrary and manifestly unconstitutional," Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as he read out his judgement on the matter. "Respect for individual choice is the essence of liberty. This freedom can only be fulfilled when each of us realises that the LGBT+ community possesses equal rights."
Paul Dillane, the executive director of NGO Kaleidoscope Trust, which campaigns for human rights of LGBTQ+ groups internationally, called this a "historic moment":
"Today's judgment from the Indian Supreme Court is a historic moment for sexual and gender minorities across India. A country of over a billion people no longer criminalises people for who they are and who they love. We pay tribute to the tireless work by activists, organisations and communities across the country."
One of the judges on the panel, Indu Malhotra, said she believes that "history owes an apology" to the LGBTQ+ communities that have been affected by these laws. When the news came down the wire, crowds outside the court and around the country celebrated the emotional moment.
The law, which punishes, in its own words, "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal", criminalises all anal and oral sex - something which has largely affected same-sex relationships. Human rights organisers have said argued that the law was proof of discrimination based on sexual orientation, and have said that police have used the statue to harass and abuse members of these communities.
"How strongly must we love knowing we are unconvicted felons under Section 377? My Lords, this is love that must be constitutionally recognised, and not just sexual acts," Menaka Guruswamy, lawyer for the petitioners of Section 377, stated to the court in July.
With the societal pressure and a 10-year jail sentence on the cards, LGBTQ+ groups in the country have campaigned for years to change this law, seeing their fair share of defeats and victories over the years.
In 2009, the Delhi high court struck down the discriminatory law, but it was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 2013 following the petitions of various political and religious groups. In 2016, the court decided to revisit the ruling, due to what is known as a "curative petition" brought about by protestors. Effectively, this means a formal request put forward to review a previous ruling seen as a "miscarriage of justice".
While public opinion in India's cities have predominantly been in favour of putting an end to the law, there remains strong opposition from religious groups and conservative rural communities.
While this is undoubtedly a huge stepped forward, there is still some way to go, including providing equal rights for LGTBQ+ couples in other areas, such as marriage and inheritance.