Rainbow India

New Delhi's Evolution on Gay Rights

A pride rally in Mumbai, July 2, 2009. Arko Datta / Reuters

On February 2, a raucous, rainbow-colored crowd gathered outside the gates of India’s Supreme Court in New Delhi. Inside, a group of lawyers petitioned to strike down a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality. According to the law, known as Section 377, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

The fight for gay rights in India has been turbulent. As recently as 2009, the Delhi High Court declared Section 377 unconstitutional, a milestone for the movement. Yet in December 2013, in a surprise judgment, India’s Supreme Court chose to reverse that verdict. The Supreme Court, led by the octogenarian Justice G. S. Singhvi, who retired immediately after the decision, passed the baton to the parliament, giving the legislature the right to change the law by vote.

On February 2, a three-judge bench of India’s Supreme Court decided to reopen the debate on the anti-sodomy statute, ordering a five-judge bench to reexamine the 2013 verdict. Menaka Guruswamy, a lawyer representing the petitioners, welcomed the news. “The whole issue will be heard afresh,” she said. Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation, the organization that filed the Supreme Court petition, said she’s relieved the court will reexamine the verdict, but also wary. “I’m scared to be positive, because I never expected the last judgment to be so negative,” she said.

Meanwhile, outside of the court, politicians, responding to a shift in public opinion, have begun to embrace gay rights. India’s Congress Party has taken the lead on legalizing homosexuality, with senior party member Kapil Sibal fighting the case at the Supreme Court, parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor advocating for the repeal of Section 377 in Congress, and Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the party, speaking openly in favor of the Delhi court’s 2009 decision. Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the upstart Aam Aadmi

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