December 12, 2013
Gay rights activists attend a protest meeting after the top Indian court ruled that a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality will remain in effect in India. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
Gay rights activists attend a protest meeting after the top Indian court ruled that a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality will remain in effect in India. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

In 2009, when a lower court ruled against a law banning homosexuality, it was a moment of pride, of triumph, of resilience for Indians around the world. Stories of gay pride parades, coming out stories and even positive depictions in pop culture were booming.

Four years later, that groundbreaking ruling was shattered. India’s Supreme Court reinstated the colonial-era law making homosexuality a crime. The law calls for a ten year prison sentence for “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal.”

For the world’s largest democracy, this is a huge failure. After India’s once-hailed and extraordinary rise as a global and economic force, this one decision proves to be a major setback, and one that may be difficult to recover from. If there are major global movements to boycott Russia over its gay rights, what will happen with India?

Here are some major takeaways:

1. The supreme court undercuts lower courts’ power.

India’s highest court ruled that courts shouldn’t overturn such laws, and that they should be enacted in Parliament. As of now, it’s safe to assume Parliament will not be passing a law protecting homosexuals. Especially because…

2. The right-wing party is slowly taking control.

BJP, India’s conservative party has been gaining seats and momentum. This party is so far removed from any sort of equal protection– their candidate for prime minister is even banned from the U.S. for his role in the reported massacres of at least a thousand of Muslims in 2002. Foreign Policy said the candidate, Narendra Modi, has a “disturbing track record of intolerance.”

3. India-U.S. relations.

Relations with India under President Obama and President Bush were positive. How would this ruling affect the relationship between the largest and the strongest democracies in the world? Such laws are often overlooked with other allies (gay acts can result in a death penalty in Saudi Arabia). But when international pressure grows, especially in a democracy, it may be something the U.S. cannot avoid addressing.

4. Hiding a rich part of India’s rich history.

A minority group of transgenders, known as hijras, are  ingrained in the country’s culture and help celebrate major moments in peoples lives, especially the birth of children. In 2009, they were granted the right to register to vote as “others.” This creates yet another uphill battle for the community.

5. Making it harder to fight AIDS

It’s a huge epidemic in India, and pushing gays back in the closet will cause a huge toll in attempts to educate and fight the disease. Those in need will be less likely to seek the medical attention they need.

6. The effect on violence

Reports of rapes in India made headlines over the past year. Making acts of gay sex a criminal offense will lead to bullying, blackmailing, and a real detriment to a growing urban population.

Maybe this will be the moment that would change everything for gay rights in India. Maybe it would spark a national and international movement to overturn such a regressive law, and this decision will only fuel a new generation of people ready to push the boundaries on gay rights. But after a surge of positivity, India has been going through a downturn, with news of gang rapes and a weakening economy dominating the news. Gone are the days of stories of a thriving India.

Swati Sharma is a digital editor for World and National Security and previously worked at the Boston Globe.