An evil “disease”? Gay activists fight govt. in High Court
On June 29 of this year, hundreds of gays, lesbians and transsexuals danced and sang on the streets of three Indian cities, hoisting the rainbow flag on the country’s first nationally coordinated gay pride day.
Though they waved slogans such as “gay and loving it”, many still wore masks – afraid to openly campaign against the dreaded Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which has banned “unnatural” sex since colonial times.
So where do the protesters find themselves nearly four months later, as gay activists battle a (divided) government to scrap the law, taking the case to the Delhi High Court?
The charges leveled by the government against homosexuals appear to be stacking up. Local media has quoted additional solicitor general P P Malhotra as saying homosexuality is a “social vice”, borne of a “perverse mind”.
Worse, the government says homosexuality is “a disease” – the spreader of killer HIV/AIDS even as it infects the morality of its victims. Malhotra on Monday painted a gloomy picture indeed of what would happen if Indian homosexuals had their way: “AIDS is already spreading in the country and if gay sex is legalized then people on the street would start indulging in such practices saying that the High Court has given approval for it.”
It would, in the words of Home Minister Shivraj Patil, “open the floodgates for delinquent behaviour” for those same people who danced on the streets of Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore four months ago.
No longer fearing prison, they would flaunt their vice openly on the streets, as police and decent families stand by, powerless to stop them. If, by the government’s own estimate, just 0.3% of Indians are homosexual, that still leaves around three million people to go on the rampage.
So far, though, the High Court has not been impressed. It has dismissed the government’s evidence when it drew on religious texts, including the bible, to attack homosexuality. On Monday the High Court challenged the Centre to prove how homosexuality was a disease, and earlier cheekily asked whether straight sex should also be banned, given it also spreads AIDS.
The cabinet itself is divided: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh found himself asking two members of his cabinet to make up their very public tiff on the issue. Health Minister Ramadoss has been a strong spokesman for the gay campaign, arguing that pushing homosexuality underground has made it harder, not easier, to stop the spread of AIDS.
The question is, if the law is repealed, will homosexuals feel truly free in India, and how much of a backlash will there be against them? Given the social stigma, those who flaunted their pride secretly in June, might still find it hard to out themselves to friends and family, even if the law says they can.