A Delhi court rules that punishment for sexual relations between
consenting adults is a violation of constitutional rights. The
ruling applies to Delhi but is seen as a trendsetter for the
Reporting from New Delhi - The Delhi High Court issued a landmark
ruling Thursday decriminalizing homosexuality, a move that could
bring more freedom to millions of people in this deeply
The ruling said that treating relations between consenting adult
homosexuals as a crime is a violation of basic human rights
safeguarded under the Indian Constitution.
The court decision amending an 1860s-era British Empire statute
ostensibly applies only to Delhi. But activists said that given
the capital territory's leadership position, they expect the
ruling to influence courts across the country.
"I think this is quite fantastic," said Anjali Gopalan, director
of the Naz Foundation, an HIV/AIDS awareness group, one of the
parties that submitted the lawsuit eight years ago. "It's a big
step forward, although there are many more steps ahead."
The decision inspired celebratory rallies in Bangalore,
Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chennai and other major Indian cities.
"This is going to impact the whole country," said A.J. Hariharan,
founder of a gay rights group in Chennai, formerly Madras. "This
will change the lives of millions of gays and lesbians in India."
About 200 gays gathered, cheered and hugged at Delhi's Jantar
Mantar monument, a traditional gathering area for all sorts of
protests. They were mobbed by nearly as many reporters.
"There's been a huge change in the past five years in India,"
said Andi, 37, a photo editor known professionally by a single
name, who was out celebrating. "I'm now willing to say straight
out that I'm queer. And more people are willing to accept it."
Religious groups condemned the decision, pledging to pressure the
ministries and courts to reverse it. An appeal would send the
issue to the Supreme Court.
"This is dangerous and harmful for Indian society," said Uzma
Nahid, member of an Islamic law board, who promised to join
Christian and Hindu groups in fighting the change. "Western
countries allow these things and you see the effects -- people
take drugs, parents don't care about their children. If the
father doesn't concentrate on his wife, this could undermine the
For many homosexuals, the immediate effect on their personal
lives will not be dramatic. There's still a strong social stigma
here against gays and lesbians, with young people often pressured
to marry early and produce grandchildren.
"There's still a mental block," said Rahil Zafar, 22, a student,
wearing a bandanna over his face to hide his identity from
television cameras as he celebrated. "I don't want my family to
know. They keep the pressure on me."
Zafar said he bats down the marriage proposals his parents
present: " 'It's too early to get married,' 'I don't like the way
this one looks, that one doesn't seem right,' " he said he tells
them. "My family still doesn't suspect I'm gay."
One change the ruling could bring soon,activists said, is in
dealings with corrupt police officers, who reportedly sometimes
extort money by threatening to apply the law or "out" gays and
lesbians to friends or family.
Akash Verma, 26, a Delhi resident, said he was returning home
late one night in 2004 when two intoxicated policemen who
suspected he was gay stole about $20 from his bag and demanded
sex, but released him. Verma said other officers later "strongly
advised" against filing a complaint.
Although Verma's account could not be independently verified, gay
rights activists said such behavior by police is not uncommon.
Rajan Bhagat, a Delhi police spokesman, declined to comment on
allegations of abuse.
The decision by the Delhi court applies to Section 377, a
British-era anti-sodomy law that forbids "carnal intercourse
against the order of nature."
The law, exported to India during British colonial rule, makes no
distinction between consensual and non-consensual activities,
includes homosexuality in the same category as pedophilia and
defines rape as occurring between only a man and a woman, with no
provision for male sexual violence against men. Under the law,
sex between homosexuals may result in up to 10 years of
Versions of the law remain in 18 Asian and Pacific, 17 African,
13 Caribbean and 18 Asian and Pacific nations and colonies,
according to Human Rights Watch, which expressed hope India's
that reform would inspire others to change their laws.
Even as many Indians struggle to tell their families they are
gay, few have had as much at stake as Manvendra Singh Gohil, 42,
the only son and heir to the fortunes of the former Rajpipla
principality in western India's Gujarat state.
Gohil came out in 2006, only to learn a short while later that
his mother had disowned him.
He told local reporters that he realized at age 10 that he was
gay and struggled with his identity for three decades, even
agreeing in 1991 to an arranged marriage. It ended in divorce two
years later, however, after he told his wife that he was gay.
In 2002, he finally told his parents after suffering a nervous
breakdown. His decision to go public in 2006, and state that
homosexuality in Indian royal families wasn't particularly rare,
resulted in him being disowned and being burned in effigy by
Gohil said Thursday through his publicist that, after the initial
hardship, he doesn't regret his decision to stop living a double
life. His family has started to change, in keeping with
developments in Indian society.
"He recently started talking with his dad again, although his
mother will take a little more time," said Deepak Kashyap, his
publicist. "And he's started going back to the palace, although
he still doesn't stay overnight."
Anshul Rana in The Times' New Delhi Bureau contributed to this