Rewriting Section 377: India’s Momentous Ruling On Gay Rights


India may have inadvertently kick-started a modernizing domino effect after its landmark decision to decriminalize archaic laws surrounding gay rights.

In this recent ruling, the Supreme Court of India has both created and corrected history by outlawing Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The ruling not only decriminalized gay sex, but also ensured that gay citizens are protected under the constitution. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, titled “Unnatural offences,” stated that “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 ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

The decision, headed by Justice Dipak Misra, was unanimously delivered by a five-judge bench, reports the BBC. The judges took into account the estimates that 8% of India’s population, 104 million people, might be LGBT, and apologized for how long this wrong has taken to be righted. “History owes an apology to members of the community for the delay in ensuring their rights,” said judge Indu Malhotra.

When the news broke, it was met with celebrations that quickly spread across the nation. Outside the courthouse in Bangalore, people danced and embraced each other, while human rights activists around the country revelled in their victory beneath a sky of rainbow confetti, reports the BBC.

India has a complicated past when it comes to gay issues. Hinduism, the country’s dominant religion, is relatively nonrestrictive when it comes to love and same sex marriage. However, this “culture of tolerance” was turned on its head when India came under British rule, and during the country’s colonization in the 1860s, the British introduced Section 377. This means that the law has been in place for over 150 years.

As of August 2018, 72 countries still had laws in place criminalizing homosexuality, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. India’s historic ruling will hopefully be a catalyst to change this. India has the second highest population of any country in the world, so its decisions will not go unnoticed, and could act as a trigger to persuade the remaining 71 countries to re-evaluate their outdated or unjust laws surrounding LGBT relationships.

India’s influence is already evident in Singapore, where a veteran diplomat has asked the gay community to challenge the laws surrounding gay rights, Reuters reports. Not dissimilar to India, section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code bans gay sex between men, but not between women. If a nation as conservative as Singapore is already being urged to reevaluate their laws, then more is certainly yet to come.

In an increasingly globalized world, no single country’s actions exist in a vacuum. India’s decision, while primarily political, will spread a wave of hope for social justice and create unparalleled visibility for LGBT rights across the globe. Meenakshi Ganguly, from Human Rights Watch, deemed this ruling “hugely significant,” as it will encourage people to topple restrictive gay rights in other countries.