Arko Datta / Courtesy Reuters Kiss and yell: at a gay rights rally in Mumbai, July 2009.

The Indian in the Closet

New Delhi's Wrong Turn on Gay Rights

On a bright January day, a group of around 200 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists dressed in black, to symbolize mourning, gathered at Jantar Mantar, a site in New Delhi that frequently plays host to protests and demonstrations. Nearby, khaki-clad police officers warily observed the spectacle. The activists clutched rainbow flags to their chests and shouted slogans.

“My gender, my right! My sexuality, my right!”

“We want justice: you can’t stop our love!”

The grim mood represented a dramatic turnaround. Just a few weeks earlier, more than a thousand people had filled the same location to take part in the sixth annual Delhi Queer Pride Parade, one of the city’s biggest street parties of the year. That celebration was a distant memory for Roshini, a young woman who was at the January protest with her partner. She had a black band tied around her arm and tears in her eyes. “There will be no parade next year,” she said. “That was my last parade, at least for a long while.”

Between those two gatherings, the Supreme Court of India had issued a ruling that hobbled India’s fledgling gay rights movement and left the country’s LGBT population fearful, angry, and depressed. Last December, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court overturned a 2009 ruling by a lower court that had decriminalized consensual homosexual sex between adults. The 2009 ruling had come in response to a lawsuit filed eight years earlier by the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, a gay rights and HIV/AIDS advocacy organization. The court had held that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits sexual activities “against the order of nature” and which was originally established by India’s colonial British rulers in 1861, violated the constitution by depriving citizens of their rights to equal treatment under the law, privacy, and freedom of expression.

Although relatively few people had ever been prosecuted under Section 377, the law threatens violators with a fine and a prison term of ten

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