Will India accept gay couples?
“Freaking unbelievable. Absolutely speechless!”
Gay rights activists in India have been posting congratulatory messages on blogs and Twitter ever since the Delhi High Court on Thursday ruled gay sex was not a crime.
Some see the ruling as crucial for the country’s battle against HIV/AIDS.
India has the world’s second highest HIV/AIDS caseload and gay advocacy groups say fear of persecution by law enforcement agencies often leaves homosexuals without easy access to health information and preventive care, rendering them more vulnerable to infection.
The gay sex debate and repealing of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that makes “unnatural sex” a punishable offence will have wide- ranging implications in the months to come.
But it’s difficult to predict whether conservative Indians would change their perception of the gay community.
India has traditionally been a study in curious contradictions that are deeply interwoven in its social fabric through centuries. If it is embracing and tolerant of alien customs, it is also proud and conservative of its own.
Visitors to the ancient temples of Khajuraho, built in the 10th century, would find homosexual couples immortalised in its stone carvings.
While there rarely has been a conviction under section 377 in the last two decades, gay rights activists say it remains a powerful tool in the hands of the police to harass homosexuals.
It also remains to be seen if the territorial jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court will be extended to encompass homosexuals in all Indian states.
The government’s reaction following the court ruling has been cautious.
Analysts say it would need to take the debate forward without antagonising religious sentiments especially those of Christians and Muslims, who are traditionally opposed to homosexuality.
For now, the court ruling will hold unless challenged in the Supreme Court or replaced by an act of Parliament.
The main debate that remains still is to find a common law that allows constitutional rights to gays having consensual sex without letting off paedophiles and same-sex rapists.
But are Indians ready to accept a same-sex couple moving in next door, gay parents at PTA meetings or at social events?