India’s top court expected to rule on gay sex

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 24, 2018 Indian supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community hold placards as they participate in a pride parade in Chennai. From heaving hotel discos, to hospitals and hushed courtrooms, Indian gays and transgenders have been defying an age-old stigma caused by a colonial-era ban on sex between two men that could finally be ended by the Supreme Court on September 6. / AFP PHOTO / ARUN SANKAR

India’s Supreme Court is likely on Thursday to deliver an eagerly awaited judgement on colonial-era legislation criminalising homosexuality, lawyers said.

Section 377 of the Indian penal code, a relic from 1860s British legislation, bans gay acts as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and allows for jail terms of up to life.

The country’s top court began hearing petitions against the ban in July, beginning an emotional debate in the world’s largest democracy over the right to freedom and privacy.

Tripti Tandon, a lawyer for one of the petitioners in the case, confirmed to AFP the judgement was listed for Thursday.

Her client Aris Jafer was arrested and sent to prison for 50 days in 2001.

“We have high hopes from the Supreme Court,” said Rituparna Borah, a co-director of Nazaria, which describes itself as a queer feminist advocacy group.

“This law should not have been there is the first place. This should have gone long back. We are asking for our basic human rights, nothing more,” she told AFP.

Utsav Maheshwari, a 20-year-old gay college student, said he was “super excited” and hoping the “court will legitimise the community by acknowledging their existence”.

The Delhi High Court effectively decriminalised gay sex in 2009, but the Supreme Court reinstated legal sanctions four years later after a successful appeal by religious groups.

Gay sex has long been taboo in conservative India — particularly in rural areas where nearly 70 percent of people live — and homophobia is widespread. Some still regard homosexuality as a mental illness.

According to official data, 2,187 cases under Section 377 were registered in 2016 under the category of “unnatural offences”. Seven people were convicted and 16 acquitted.

Globally 72 countries criminalise same-sex relationships, according to a 2017 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.