Indian court overturns anti-gay British-era law

By LeiLani Dowell


A court in India’s capital has made a historic decision in overturning a law that banned sex between people of the same gender. The law, section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, was imposed on the Indian people by the British when they colonized the country. It declared “carnal intercourse” to be “against the order of nature,” with penalties of up to 10 years in prison. While few were criminally prosecuted under the law, many lesbian, gay, bi and trans people were persecuted and harassed because of it.

Writing in Workers World newspaper’s “Lavender and Red” series, Leslie Feinberg described how, through the colonialist conquest of countries around the world, the British empire criminalized homosexuality.

“As the British colonial empire expanded,” Feinberg states, “its overlords imposed and enforced Article 377 and similarly worded edicts against ‘sodomy’ in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Penang and Malacca, Hong Kong, Fiji, the Malay Peninsula and Burma, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles and Papua New Guinea, ‘British’ Honduras (today Belize), Jamaica, Anguilla, the ‘British’ Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Bahamas, Tobago, Turks and Caicos, and St. Lucia, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. In the Middle East, British colonialism made ‘The Indian Penal Code’ the law of the land in Aden, Bahrain, Kuwait, Muscat and Oman, Qatar, Somaliland, the Sudan and what is today the United Arab Emirates.” (Feb. 1, 2008)

Activists fighting for the overturn of section 377 argued that not only was the law a violation of fundamental rights, but it also discouraged safe sex in a country with 2.5 million cases of HIV. The ruling by the Delhi High Court applies only in the capital state of New Delhi; however, Indian activists are hopeful that it will serve as a stepping stone for the reversal of the bigoted British law throughout the country.


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