In 1992, when two men were arrested at Connaught Place on the grounds that they were “going to indulge in homosexual acts”, the country witnessed its first protests against Section 377.
On December 11, 2013, four years after the landmark Delhi High Court order that decriminalised homosexuality, a similar protest erupted on the grounds of Jantar Mantar against the Supreme Court’s operative order reversing the 2009 judgment.
Wednesday’s verdict, given by a Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India, comprising Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhyay, has overruled the Delhi High Court’s 2009 order to read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Calling it a “black day”, civil society groups, including the Lawyers’ Collective, Naz Foundation (which had filed the petition), and Voices against 377, gathered in the Capital to express shock and outrage at what is being seen as a “judgment that will send us back by a hundred years”.
“We are deeply disappointed with the judgment,” said Arvind Narrain, of the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore.
He further added, “With this judgment, the Supreme Court has withdrawn its protective arm and rendered people of the LGBT community vulnerable to harassment once again.”
Only last month, weeks before the judgment, the Karnataka Police arrested 14 people under Section 377, ignoring the High Court ruling – the largest arrest under this law so far.
“Why has it taken them 21 months to ask petitioners to go to Parliament,” said Anand Grover, who led Naz Foundation’s case, adding, “the judgment is wrong…it flies in the face of logic. Supreme Court itself will reverse this judgment.”
The verdict on Grover’s case for recognition of gender identity of transgender persons is also set to be given soon, a case that will “have a bearing on this ruling,” he said.
However, the verdict was received with celebration by the appellants.
Mohammad Qureshi, spokesperson for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, called it a landmark judgment. “We are very satisfied with it. Homosexuality is a sin in all Indian religions…we feel the Supreme Court judgment is a step in the right direction,” Qureshi told Business Line .
The other appellants included Suresh Kumar Koushal, an astrologer, Krantikari Manuwadi Morcha, Trust Gods Ministry, Apostolic Churches Alliance and Utkal Christian Foundation and S.K. Tizarawala, a representative of Baba Ramdev.
Jantar Mantar, where members of the community had planned to celebrate a positive verdict, was turned instead into a venue for renewed protest to read down the contentious section.
Despite the setback to the community, the mood was one of solidarity and protest. Hundreds of people had come together, sporting black bands, waving the rainbow flag, carrying placards and chanting,
Qayamat (who goes by her first name) from Ludhiana, had travelled to Delhi in the hope of celebrating a positive verdict. “We are also people and we need our freedom. The continuing of such a law only makes life very difficult for us.”