Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Article 377 and the usual flip flop

After last Sunday's gay and lesbian parades in major cities in India (including our very own conservative Chennai, where I was heartened to find that women in the parade actually didn't mind posing for photographs), a couple of newspapers including the Times of India went to town proclaiming that the Government was all set to repeal the ridiculous and anachronistic Section 377 of the IPC which makes sex between two consenting adults of the same sex a criminal act. It almost appeared as if it would happen any moment now, perhaps within the very next session of Parliament.

'It could not last, the Devil howling Ho!'. By today, some ministers were furiously back pedalling, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Veerappan Moily both calling for building a consensus, another word for infinite procrastination. Meanwhile, a cleric from the Deoband Islamic seminary has denounced the move to repeal the act (claiming it to be against the Sharia), and it's only a matter of time before some Shankaracharya from some Math, or some archbishop from a major city cathedral also add their voices to the obscurantist clamour. There is even talk of religious groups getting together to oppose this movement. It's almost comforting to see how predictably, religions provide a strong bulwark against change, and the perpetuation of the old order. The same groups, whose extremist elements often go round killing each other, are now willing to get together to oppose any hint of progressive action. And our weak-kneed politicians are only too happy to allow the status quo to continue.

One misses the presence of a person of the stature of Jawaharlal Nehru. Pandit Nehru was a well know waffler in many matters but against virulent opposition from his own MPs and the President of the country, Nehru literally barelled through the Hindu Code Bill which included in its ambit the Hindu Marriage Act (1955), Hindu Succession Act (1956), Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (1956), and Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (1956). (Alas, he failed to do anything similar for other religions, being overly sensitive to the fact that he had to be particularly careful with minority groups, and with perhaps some justification).

One cannot guess how Nehru would have reacted to the present case, being a product of the early part of the 20th century, but his descendants, who are in power and who never fail to remind us of the grand legacy of the Gandhi-Nehru family, would do well to take a leaf out of their most distinguished forbear in cleaning our legal system of some of the most retrograde remnants of the Raj.

Correction: Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code does not mention homosexuality explicitly - it considers "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" whatever that might be, a criminal act. Perhaps it's the vagueness of this statement which has prevented over enthusiastic law enforcement officials from harassing gay and lesbian people. But the very wording of this Section is an absurdity in this day and age.

Update: Delhi High Court legalises gay sex


Rahul Siddharthan said...

The other thing is, last time the health minister (Anbumani Ramadoss) was in favour of repealing it, and the home minister (Shivraj Patil) was opposed. Now the home minister (P Chidambaram) is reportedly in favour while they are ascertaining the views of the new health minister. There was in fact a recent window when the health minister was Ramadoss and the home minister was Chidambaram, and presumably they could have had internal agreement on doing it. But of course, you don't do such things in the months before an election.

Shubashree said...

Well the ministers can also draw inspiration from coutries like sweden which have tested legalising sexually variant behaviour and found that itimproves their health statistics... I guess this is all public knowledge so why aren't people talking abtthis?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

The language obviously comes from our former imperial overlords. Precisely the same language is used in Malaysia (where, unlike here, the law actually seems to be enforced, at least when convenient), and even the section of the penal code is nearly the same (377C).

AmOK said...

Shubashree: Can you provide a reference link to this correlation between legalisation of variance and the improvement of health statistics? Also the evidence that supports a cause-and-effect relationship. It would be a very interesting read. Thanks.

Anant said...

I was pleased to hear that the Delhi High Court has struck down (parts) of the law. It is a step forward. In any case, since I am pretty good at citing myself, why not I suggest you look up this one.