By Hilary White

DELHI, July 6, 2009 ( – Despite strong protests from religious leaders, the government of India has announced it will not appeal last week's court decision to decriminalise sodomy between adults. The Delhi High Court ruled on Thursday that homosexual acts between consenting adults are not criminal and that the 150 year-old law is a violation of “fundamental rights” and must be amended in accordance with the constitution.

The ruling comes in a case brought by the Naz Foundation, a homosexualist lobby group that filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenge to section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” Although it technically applies only within the jurisdiction of Delhi, the decision sets a powerful precedent for rulings elsewhere in India.

With this decision, consensual homosexual sex between those over the age of 18 will no longer be punishable, although the court ruled that section 377 should still apply to cases of non-consensual sex and paedophilia. The court also recommended that federal law be amended in accordance with its ruling.

But reaction from government has been cautious, with Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily saying he would study the judgment before commenting. The head of the National People's Party, Lalu Prasad said on Saturday that the High Court had done a “very dangerous thing.” “[Homosexual acts] should never be legalised in India,” Prasad said.

“Some people may like or consent to these things, but these things are not acceptable in our society and we don't like all these things and it is very bad. It can lead to wrongdoings in the world,” he added.

Others protested that the court has overstepped its bounds. Murli Manohar Joshi, a former president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, said, “Parliament is above [the decision] and the nation and society which we live in is also above all this. One or two judges only cannot decide everything.” Mahmood Madani, a Muslim leader and MP said, “The court has today tried to infringe upon the powers of the Parliament and this is also a gross violation of the social norms. We will take up the issue in the House after the budget is tabled,” he said.

The Naz Foundation, a New Delhi based NGO, is India's foremost homosexualist lobby group and has been at the head of the campaign to decriminalise homosexual acts under the pretext of AIDS prevention. The group has strong links to such international organisations as Amnesty International and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission that lobbies through the European Parliament.

Indian religious leaders also reacted strongly with Ahmed Bukhari, the imam of Delhi's Jama Mosque calling the decision “absolutely wrong.” “If the Government (attempts) to scrap Section 377, we will oppose it strongly,” he said.

The head of a leading Islamic group, the Organization of Indian Scholars, said, “India is secular, but most Indians are religious and no religion allows this. If homosexuality is legalised, it will damage our cultural and moral values.” General secretary Maulana Mehmood Madani said, “There should be a parliamentary debate and more stringent laws to discourage people to avoid unnatural sex.”

Father Babu Joseph, a spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India said the Church has reacted with “shock and anguish” to the ruling. He said the Conference “will challenge this verdict.”

Fr. Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman for the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, said the Catholic Church does not condemn persons with homosexual inclinations, but the acts themselves. “We strongly believe that sex between same sex partners is immoral, unnatural and unethical,” he said.

The Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), a Catholic human rights and social activist NGO, said it would also appeal the ruling. “If homosexuality can be allowed, why not porn, rape, incest, sodomy, oral sex, bestiality, child abuse, prostitution?” a statement from the group said. The CSF circulated mass text messages to supporters last week asking for protests against the efforts to legalize homosexual acts.

“We protest on both health and religious grounds,'' says Joseph Dias, CSF general secretary. “We have statistics to prove that a large number of HIV cases are gay, and this verdict may lead to an AIDS epidemic of sorts.”

Hindu leader, Swami Ramdev, said, “Do the people behind this verdict consider homosexuality natural? Is it something they will themselves do? If our parents had been gays, would we have been born?”

“Freedom doesn't mean licence. Our family system is the only ideal we can show to the world. Sadly, this judgment will end up corrupting it. I will be part of every protest against the judgment.”

Although the subject of homosexuality is still largely taboo in Indian society, the homosexualist political movement has made inroads in the country with the cooperation of several organisations, including the National AIDS Control Organisation, the Law Commission of India, the Union Health Ministry, the National Human Rights Commission and The Planning Commission of India.


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