Leaps and Bounds: India’s changing attitudes towards homosexuality

By Sandhya Maddali

Last year, on Sep. 6, 2018, India declared the application of Section 337 on homosexuality unconstitutional, effectively decriminalizing homosexuality in the country. Section 337, which makes sexual acts “against the order of nature” illegal, seems to be neutral at face value. The meaning of the section is a gray area in certain perspectives because it is partially based on the reader’s interpretation, but it did assist in justifying the discrimination against homosexual communities. Today, Section 377 is still applied in instances of beastiality and sex with minors.

This battle to declare Section 337 as unconstitutional was a long-standing one, and it first began with the Naz Foundation, a non-governmental organization focused on raising awareness about sexual health that took the case to the High Court of Delhi in 2009. For the first time in India’s history, the application of Section 377 to homosexuality was considered unconstitutional.

Later, in 2013, this ruling was overturned by the verdict of Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation. Their justification was that India did not have many members of the LGBTQ+ community in the first place, so the involvement of the judicial system was largely unnecessary. This set the LGBTQ+ community in India right back to square one, until Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju came along to push the fight.

In the monumental case, Navtej Singh Johar & Ors. v. Union of India thr. Secretary Ministry of Law and Justice, the two women played very significant roles in arguing for the final verdict on the unconstitutionality of Section 377. There was also a personal stake in this for them because the two women were in a relationship themselves, which was revealed in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

Today, both are accomplished lawyers. Menaka Guruswamy attended Harvard, Oxford, and the National Law School of India University, while Arundhati Katju attended both Columbia and National Law School of India University as well.

This monumental decision by the court is a huge turning point for India’s LGBTQ+ community. Though many people in India still possess homophobic ideals, the judiciary recognition of same-sex relationships is a big step in the right direction.

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