Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code states, "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years..." The same law is on the books in Singapore, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and has been interpreted differently in each of those nations.
In India, section 377 is used by the police to convict pedophiles and harass males interested in sex with fellow men. An activist group, the Naz Foundation, has filed suit in Delhi asking for the law to be read down so it no longer applies to voluntary intercourse between adults. As the time for a verdict draws closer, different arms of the government are speaking in contradictory voices. The first to break ranks and favour decriminalising gay sex was the former Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss His successor, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has been more circumspect. The law ministry had earlier backed the status quo, but the new man in charge, Veerappa Moily, gladdened liberal hearts by signalling a shift in position.
Moily has since backtracked. He now says his comments were misinterpreted, and that a decision will be taken only after consulting with religious groups. This is a ridiculous idea. The head of the Darul Uloom is hardly likely to emerge from such a consultation saying, "Homosexuals behave in accord with the Quran and Hadith and, besides, the ones I know are seriously cool dudes". The Shankaracharya of Puri is not about to preside over gay wedding ceremonies in his temple. The stance of religious groups is well known, and is broadly against any repeal or watering down of Section 377.
Why should the opinion of these luminaries count outside their sphere of influence? The Pope, who considers homosexuality a cardinal sin, also believes condoms ought to play no part in contraception and AIDS prevention. This hasn't stopped the Indian government from encouraging condom use, and producing zillions of rubbers in state factories. India didn't consult with Pentecostals before legalising abortion. We didn't do so because we are a secular republic. The law minister appears not to have read the constitution recently.
OK, so gay sex is haram. But so is eating pig and drinking alcohol, and I can enjoy both those things legally pretty much anywhere in India. We have laws against caste discrimination, against dowry, against child marriage, all of which were pushed through despite opposition from conservative Hindu circles. Religions may bless marriages between geriatric men and pre-pubescent girls while frowning of the love or lust between adult males, but liberal society thinks in exactly the opposite way and so should the state.
It is time India reclaimed its status as a liberal republic committed to progressive ideals. It's bad enough that my hometown appears to be ruled by an elephant-headed god and a seventeenth century monarch.