“What’s illegal about love, your lordships?” asked a TV headline, “377 Quit India” said a poster, and “Hum kya chahtein? Azaadi!” [What do we want? Freedom!] screamed protesters at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. These were part of the many reactions to the Supreme Court decision of 11 December 2013, which set aside a much-celebrated Delhi High Court judgment of 2009, and upheld the infamous Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 377 was introduced by the British in 1861, and criminalises sex “against the order of nature” with imprisonment up to life and a fine. This vaguely worded Section has been used mainly to harass, abuse, and sometimes, arrest homosexual people. This, despite the fact that it technically applies equally to heterosexual people; sex “against the order of nature” is pretty much any kind of intercourse that cannot lead to procreation. In other words, anyone who has sex without the intention of having a baby is a criminal. In fact, even consensual oral sex between husband and wife is technically criminal!
So, why the outrage? Why should we care? It is not like the government can put cameras in our bedrooms and actually prosecute our, er, intimacies!
Well, actually, Section 377 makes criminals out of thousands of consenting adults in India, for no reason but prejudice. The prejudice goes way beyond the bedroom–to the very existence of some groups of people. It is selectively applied to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) individuals. And, that makes them vulnerable to blackmail, harassment, arrest, and even torture. This is a well-documented fact–it happens a lot, even though very few cases reach the point of prosecution. Section 377 is not a law that exists on paper, it is an everyday security issue for LGBTQI people. And, it is a concern for all of us; no matter who we love or want to have sex with.
Section 377 violates our fundamental rights to equality, non-discrimination, and privacy. It violates our right to choose, and to live lives free of violence. It goes against the spirit of the Indian Constitution, of Indian democracy, which is inclusive of every kind of diversity, and offers special protections to its many minorities. Section 377 is out of step with everything we stand for. And, because we believe this, we are launching a campaign against Section 377. Join us in this fight by following this space.
Join us if you are passionate about campaigning against Section 377. And, if you are confused or hesitant, join us to know more about the Section and its problems. Join us to know why and how this is everyone’s battle. A lot of noise has been made by a smattering of religious fundamentalists. But, we cannot let that drown our voices. The time has come when we must shout louder than them.
In this campaign, we lay bare Section 377–analyse the Supreme Court decision of 11 December 2013; bring to you voices of the LGBTQI community, human rights activists, parents, young people, and other supporters, and present to you facts that debunk myths that homosexuality is unnatural, against Indian culture, western, and against religious doctrine.
Stand with us in this fight. Stand on the right side of history!
This is the first in a series of posts about Section 377 in particular, and sexuality and human rights in general. With this, CREA and Youth Ki Awaaz launch a dedicated campaign – United Against 377 – to advocate for sexual rights for all.