What you, perceptive readers, are now going to read may in the beginning seem scandalous. You may denounce me as not mature enough to speak on such issues. Indeed, you may not agree with me. But the fact is that I care about my country; I care about its space in today’s pluralistic world; and I believe that anything that adds to the bulk of the already heaving system needs to be done away with. In short, the fat needs to be trimmed.
What I am referring to is the imperial monstrosity that still exists in our system; something that the majority of the world has done away with; something that affects a minority community to such an extent that their very existence is a witch-hunt, an inquisition for the authorities to undertake; something that subdues them to levels below the most unfathomable depths; something that is a shame for the cultural mosaic that is India. It is the 1861 Victorian prejudice against gay people—the section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
You may argue by saying that this does not affect the most of us in this seemingly heterosexual society; that it is a defunct law that hurts nobody and does nothing except sit in the thick book of Indian laws. But take a deeper look. It is a law that wipes out a minority group completely. They cannot adopt, legalise their relationships or lay claim to another’s will or property or both. In short, they are illegal. What’s more, they are not a minority for the law, they are criminals.
Speaking of criminality then seems to be the right thing to do. A criminal is someone whose actions harm another; someone who is a potential threat to his surroundings; someone who robs you or cheats you or assaults you. Think clearly, remove the mists of ignorance that shroud your minds, and you will see that homosexual acts between consenting adults harm nobody. Both parties that have consented to this accord are adult enough to choose their lifestyle. Their sexuality is their own. Who are we, or who is the law to decide what to do with individuals who choose a lifestyle that is different from the supposedly ‘moral’ one? Morality has no yardstick to be measured with. What is moral for one may not be for another. And it is this diversity in opinion that is intrinsic to a pluralistic democracy. How then can an obsolete, draconian and otherwise isolated law (Britain, who introduced us to this vice repealed the law in 1967) be used to criminalise law-abiding citizens, purely on the basis of choices—choices that harm nobody? Surely, this is against the basic fundamental right on which our society floats.
Because there is no plausible reason to 377, its proponents will come up with a variety of arguments, which lack credibility:
Some people come up with the argument that India, as a society is not ready to plunge into such abysses. I believe that that this as an argument is hypocritical. India gave the world Kamasutra; India is a land which is a confluence of many cultures; it comes into contact with instances of live-in relationships, relationships that have no ink with their names on legal documents, relationships that are a by-product of intense love and affection, almost every day. There are also common cases of sex change operations. Why then is such a fuss being made to hound homosexuals, to criminalise them solely on the basis of their sexual preferences, even when their actions harm nobody?
Some people say that sec 377 doesn’t really matter. This is my favourite because it highlights the fact that the proponents to this outdated shame are running out of choices and are becoming delirious. They say that 377 is not strictly enforced. So why all this hoohah and tamasha? People who look the other way will continue to do so, with 377 or without it. Why make a fuss on an almost obsolete Raj-era law.
The fact is that the fuss is required. Think of the 50 million gay people who make love to their partners every night happily entrenched in the knowledge that the Indian state considers them to be criminals who deserve a sentence ranging anywhere from 10 years RI to life. Think of the people who turn criminals in the eyes of the state every night; think of the people who the police can lock up ‘lawfully,’ but graciously are left free by the men in khaki. Think of all this and you will realise the injustice that is being meted out to this community in the form of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code—injustice on being criminalised for actions that are completely mutual, actions that harm no one.
Others will argue that India has other important aspects on its agenda, aspects of infanticide, dowry, farmer suicides, economic depravity, the nuclear deal, terrorism, etc. But I believe that a law that treats 50 million of us as common criminals, a law that relegates 50 million law abiding citizens to common murderers, rapists etc. every night, needs to be done away with. It is for us to look into this if we want India to shine; an India where all men and women are equal in all ways. Because if we don’t, then damned is this modern hypocrisy of pluralism, equality and liberalism; and damned are we. As Vir Sanghvi puts it, “As long as section 377 exists, as long as we fall back on the colonial law book to discriminate against our own citizens and as long as we deny a fundamental human right to a large section of our people, we lower ourselves as a nation.” It is high time that we stopped lowering ourselves; it is high time that we deposited Section 377 to the place where it belongs—the dustbin.