A victory for humanity as India’s Supreme Court has ruled to overturn a colonial law which criminalised gay sex. Section 377 existed as part of India’s constitution, implemented by the British Empire, same-sex relationships were ruled as an ‘unnatural offence’. The law entailed a ten-year jail sentence for its violation.
The removal of section 377 is the first move in the recognition of gay rights as being fundamentally a part of human rights in India. The existence of a law which criminalised same-sex relationships was seen by India’s LGBTQ community as the root of harassment and demonisation of homosexuals in India. With a political development in the treatment of gay people we can now only hope for a social development of the like.
A report done by LGBTQ charity Humsafar Trust showed that of those surveyed in the community, only 20 per cent were publicly out. I suppose in a country which imprisoned gay people this is not overly surprising. Now that section 377 has been overturned we should hope to see a rise in the number of out homosexuals in India.
A key figure in the LGBTQ movement in India is Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil. In 2006 the Prince came out as gay and was ostracised from India’s Royal Family as a result. The Prince did not come out until he was 40 years old. It took his family less than three months to publicly disown and disinherit him. Of course, this is not purely reflective of the challenge for a man to come out as gay in India, it is hard to imagine that a prince in the British Royal Family would find it easy to publicly come out.
Despite the challenges Manvendra has faced, he has remained one of the most vocal advocates for LGBTQ rights in his country. Prior to revealing his sexuality, the Prince was involved with gay rights organisations. He established the Lakshya Trust for the health of sexual minorities in 2000. Since 2006 his work with the LGBTQ community and opposition to section 377 has inspired more conversation amongst gay people in India.
Unfortunately, the remnants of British colonial rule still exist across Africa and Asia. Before colonial rule, there existed no discrimination on the basis of sexuality in the colonies. In Africa, the implementation of a European penal code system and the whitewashing of Christianity demonised intimacies which were traditionally accepted in African tribes. The Bible becoming the basis of African morality was also the root cause of prejudice. People who previously were able to essentially get on with their lives suddenly found themselves with a rule book commanding what was right and wrong.
Hence, it is ironic that the British Government and media now point to the backwards discrimination in African and Asian countries. Those traditions only exist because of the British Empire.
However, the repeal of section 377 is a positive sign that people across the world are starting to understand that gay rights are human rights and love is love. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan are also working to repeal similar leftovers of British colonialism. But for now, not just in India but across the globe, love wins again.