India is gay tolerant
Section 377 of India's Criminal Code classifies homosexuality as a crime. And the fight against this passage dragged on for a long time. But now there is a breakthrough, now the highest Indian judges have said everything necessary: The paragraph violates the constitution and must disappear. When the decision became known, cheers broke out in many parts of India, as the television station "Times Now" broadcast on Thursday morning, and tears flowed in front of the courthouse in Delhi.
"I'm thrilled, I have no words," said the activist Debottam Saha, who had petitioned the Constitutional Court. "We are no longer criminals." Nevertheless, Saha believes that it will take time in everyday life for recognition to take hold. "Maybe 20, 30 years," she says. Shortly thereafter, the United Nations also praised the historic Delhi ruling and expressed hope that it would help remove the stigma on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community.
Homosexuality is still considered a major taboo in parts of Indian society. The law, now found to be unconstitutional, dates back to the era of British rule on the subcontinent and reflects the rigid norms of the Victorian era that shaped colonial legislation governing overseas possessions. In many ex-colonies of Asia and Africa there are therefore legal relics of that time that criminalized "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" and were later included in the criminal catalogs of the new, independent states.
Conservative groups and religious zealots in India tried for years to prevent paragraph 377 from being abolished.
The accounts of another activist, Akilesh Godi, give an impression of how difficult it is to bear the burden of discrimination. The engineer, who grew up in a liberal family in Hyderabat, speaks of severe depression from which he suffered for a long time. The social pressure was great, so that he often doubted his sexual orientation. "The label of a criminal makes it worse. You don't even dare to speak to a psychiatrist because you don't know how he will react," Godi told a reporter for Reuters.
The stigma and widespread discrimination in India led many to hide their sexual orientation. Aysha Kapur, who filed one of five petitions to the Supreme Court to remove Section 377 from the Criminal Code, once described the gays and lesbians as the "invisible ones" in their country. She could have been taken away in handcuffs at any time. "I don't want to be seen as a criminal, that's what it's about." Section 377, which dates back to 1862 and now largely needs to be repealed, provided sentences of up to ten years in prison. A ban on sex with animals should remain in place.
Hinduism tells of great tolerance towards homosexuality
Charges against homosexuals were seldom in India, as the Constitutional Court found. But the discriminatory law had significant consequences in everyday life. In such a legal situation, gays, lesbians or transsexuals are often exposed to severe abuse and persecution without a chance to defend themselves. They don't dare to go to the police because they are - before the law - considered criminals. The constitutional court decision is an important prerequisite for curbing oppression and violence.
"Society owes members of the LGBT community and their families an apology for having been denied equal rights over the years," said judge Indu Malhotra. Depak Misra, who presides over the court, said: "Social moralism cannot violate the rights of a single individual." It is important to defeat prejudices. "I am what I am," said Misra. "So take me for who I am."
The struggle against colonial law was tough and dragged on for many years. But the story of Hinduism on the subcontinent tells of far greater tolerance towards same-sex sex than in the later colonial state shaped by imperialism and also in the first decades after independence. In the mythological tales there are same-sex encounters, love games and erotic scenes that have very little to do with the prudish morals of British imperialists in the 19th century
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