Delhi: An attempt to decriminalise
homosexuality has set up for the UPA government a sensitive test
reminiscent of the Shah Bano case.
Some religion-driven organisations
have opposed the government’s effort to build a consensus on
repealing Section 377 of the Indian Penal code, which makes
punishable “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.
The government initiative for a
meeting of its three relevant ministries to scrap or modify the
section has rekindled hope among gay activists and liberal
But two Muslim outfits — the Jamiat
Ulema-i-Hind and the Jamaat Islami — and the VHP have categorically
opposed any change in the law.
A Christian organisation — the
Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) — restated the Church’s
objections but suggested that it was not against the repeal as such.
The CBCI does not want homosexuality to be treated as a criminal
offence but it will oppose measures, such as gay marriages, intended
at “legalising” same-sex relationships.
Law minister M. Veerappa Moily and
home minister P. Chidambaram are said to be in favour of repealing
the 1860 law. Moily today said the concerns of all sections,
including religious groups, would be taken into account before the
He said the department of law, home
and health would soon meet on the issue but did not commit a date.
Sources said health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who hails from
Kashmir, had not yet articulated his position. “He may want to gauge
the mood in the Valley,” a Congress source said.
“Section 377 makes no sense,” said
Ponni Arasu, a law student and organiser of the Gay Pride March in
Delhi today. “You cannot deny people their basic civil rights.”
The younger section in the Congress
appears to favour what one leader called “a liberal step in the
But a veteran associated with minority
affairs in the Congress said: “This cannot be a black-and-white
decision. The party will have to discuss the issue in detail.”
Government sources stressed no
decision had been taken to repeal the section that is also invoked
to fight child abuse. The government could suggest modifications
that will prevent harassment of homosexuals and squeeze in some
clauses aimed at addressing the concerns of religious groups.
For the Congress, the controversy has
brought back memories of the Shah Bano case. In 1986, the Rajiv
Gandhi government, under pressure from Muslim organisations, had
nullified a Supreme Court order awarding maintenance to the divorced
The homosexuality debate comes at a time the Congress feels it has
won back the support of minorities. The UPA government also takes
care to project a minority-sensitive face.