NEW DELHI — A group of gay Indians who are prominent in their fields have joined together to petition the Supreme Court on Wednesday to demand the scrapping of a dreaded colonial-era law that criminalizes homosexuality, adding their weight to a decade-and-a-half-old legal battle.
When the high court resumes work after its 45-day summer break on Wednesday, it is likely to hear the petition filed by a celebrity chef, a hotelier, a writer, a business executive and a classical dancer who argue that the law — called Section 377 of the Indian penal code — violates their right to life. The law is routinely abused by policemen to harass gay people and demand bribes.
The new petition said that “sexual expression, in whatever form, between consenting adults in the privacy of a home ought to receive protection of fundamental rights."
This is the first time prominent gays from varied walks of life have come forward in the battle to win a legal victory.
The petition said that the petitioners are “highly accomplished professionals who have been felicitated for their professional achievements, but have suffered because of the deleterious effect of this draconian law on their personal and professional lives."
India’s minister for law and justice, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, told reporters that the government has discussed the fresh petition with the attorney general.
“We will place our arguments in front of the Supreme Court and the decision will be taken today on what stand the central government needs to take,” Gowda said. “Cannot say more on the issue as the matter is sub judice.”
In December 2013, India’s gay community suffered a setback when the Supreme Court overturned a historic 2009 lower-court ruling that said homosexuality was not a crime. The landmark ruling in 2009 led to a brief period of celebration and coming-out parades.
But several religious, cultural and political groups filed appeals and the community had to start all over again. The Supreme Court upheld Section 377 and said homosexuality was “against the order of nature” and said only the country’s parliament can decide to change the law.
An appeal by a longtime gay rights advocacy group called the Naz Foundation was dismissed.
The fresh petition on Wednesday will argue that Section 377 violates the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Indian constitution.
Some members of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have supported decriminalizing homosexuality.
Ram Madhav, the general secretary of the party, had said in 2014 that even though he does not endorse “glorification of certain forms of social behavior,” he finds it questionable that homosexuality is treated as a crime in “this day and age.”
But the lower house of parliament voted twice in the past six months against a move by Shashi Tharoor, a lawmaker from the opposition Congress party, to decriminalize homosexuality.
On Twitter, many welcomed the new petition.
Strong move. Will add a lot to ongoing struggle : Gay celebs cite right to life, move SC against Sec #377 https://t.co/KkwxDKwID7
— Deepika Bhardwaj (@DeepikaBhardwaj) June 28, 2016