Section 377: What the world has to say about India’s decision

A round up of the international media’s coverage of the Supreme Court’s verdict banning gay sex
Image credit: dna

By Samyukta Maindarkar

The Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday to recriminalise gay sex has caused furore in India, and not just among members and activists of the LGBT community. It has also made international headlines. Here is what international media organisations have to say about India’s controversial ruling.

In India, homosexuality becomes a crime again, reads the headline on the website of Le Figaro, France’s leading national newspaper. A large picture of protesters in Mumbai holding up colourful flags, banners and placards against the Supreme Court’s judgement fills the space below it.

Most international news coverage explains the history of the struggle for LGBT rights in India, including the landmark July 2009 verdict of the Delhi high Court which decriminalised gay sex in the country for a short, brief moment, before trying to analyse why such a setback (Wednesday’s Supreme Court verdict) has occurred in the world’s largest democracy.

In an unflattering description for a country that is trying hard to become a global power, the BBC calls India “deeply conservative”, and says homosexuality is a taboo, with many Indians still regarding same-sex relationships as illegitimate.

The Guardian feels that the Delhi High Court’s 2009 verdict, “while an undoubted milestone, had somewhat prematurely been hailed as “legalising homosexuality in India””. It goes on to elaborate on the wording of section 377 of the IPC and its “distinctly Victorian nastiness”.

It feels that Indian lawmakers had the opportunity to be truly progressive while framing the constitution in 1950, soon after India threw off the yoke of colonial British rule, but chose instead to continue with “draconian statutes against “sedition” and “offending religious sensibilities””.

“As long as India continues to adhere to this sexual hierarchy,” it says, “it cannot be said to be fully culturally independent of Victorian Britain. No high growth indices or boasting about being an economic “powerhouse” can cover up the scandal of a servile adherence to colonial bigotry.”

“Traditional”, “conservative” and “deeply religious” are sadly among the more common adjectives used to describe India.

The French newspaper Le Monde explains to its readers that homosexuality remains a deeply entrenched taboo in Indian society. Those who are open about their sexual orientation and resist the pressure of traditional marriage, which is sacrosanct, are rare, it adds.

The New York Times feels Indians widely disapprove of homosexuality, eunuchs and transgender people, despite their widespread presence. Transgender people are known to approach cars at traffic lights, it says, and demand money, and Indians “fearing a powerful curse if they refuse — hand over small bills”.

“The pressure to marry, have children and conform to traditional notions of family and caste can be overwhelming”, it says, and adds that many men and women in India are forced to lead double lives.

The Washington Post believes most homosexual Indians have not revealed their sexual orientation because of “the stigma attached to their sexuality”. The Supreme Court’s ruling, it says, is “a striking sign of how the gay rights movement has been met with a fierce backlash in some parts of the world, even as it has made dramatic gains in the United States, Europe and Latin America.”

Along with covering the issue of gay rights in India, the Wall Street Journal also mentions the increasing concerns about women’s safety after the December 16 gang rape in Delhi last year, and how the country is struggling to minimise violence against them. This latest verdict, it says, is yet another black mark against India’s fast deteriorating reputation.

The judgment has stunned even the federal government, the Al Jazeera news website says. “Several ministers openly criticised the verdict and the federal home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said they would try bringing in a law that would negate the court ruling.”

The BBC, while covering reactions from both sides of the highly charged debate, has noted that all religious communities – Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike – are united for once and welcomed the SC’s decision banning gay sex, claiming it is unnatural, goes against their religion and “does not belong” in Indian culture.

It also expresses incredulity at the comments of Baba Ramdev. “Perhaps most bizarrely, a spokesman for a popular yoga guru opposed the change, telling the court that he could “cure homosexuality through yoga” it says.

Gay rights website Queerty ran a humorous piece on how the UK ruined gay sex for everyone.

The Supreme Court’s verdict also been reported as news (and less as opinion) on Pakistani, Chinese and Nepali news websites.

*Originally published on on December 12, 2013