The decision by the Supreme Court to uphold a 153 year-old colonial law that criminalises same-sex relationships has been seen as a setback for human rights in India. Section 377 states that same-sex relationships are an “unnatural offence” and are punishable by a 10-year jail sentence.
In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that Section 377 was discriminatory and stated that gay sex between consenting adults should not be treated as a crime. This has therefore been reversed by the Supreme Court ruling today.
Chief Executive of Amnesty International, G. Ananthapadmanabhan gave the following statement: “This decision is a body-blow to people’s rights to equality, privacy and dignity. It is hard not to feel let down by this judgement, which has taken India back several years in its commitment to protect basic rights.”
Geeta Pandey of BBC News reported that ‘as Justice GS Singhvi announced the order, activists and members of the gay and lesbian community present outside the court began crying and hugging each other.’
A petition against the ruling has attracted over 25,000 signatures on allout.org
The ruling has come just two days after the United Nations published a video detailing the rights of LGBT people across the world. It also highlighted the 76 countries that criminalise same-sex relations. By upholding Section 377, India has now joined these countries, increasing the total to 77 and making the video already out-of-date.
There is also a danger of setback for the fight against HIV in India. By criminalising gay sexual activity, LGBT people may no longer feel able to come forward for testing and treatment due to fear of being prosecuted. It is estimated that 2.4 million people are living with HIV in India.