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Under 377, We're A Nation Of Criminals, And That Needs To Change Now

16/06/2016 1:54 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Abhishek Chinnappa / Reuters
A member of the LGBT community in Bengalaru holds a candle during a memorial service following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, in India June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Abhishek N.Cinnappa

Last night, I appeared on television for the nth time to talk about Section 377. I was literally speaking out in the dark, as we had one of our regular Goan monsoon power cuts; the shooting was done in candlelight. When we were done, I realized that I have been speaking about 377 since 2000, when I appeared on the Pooja Bedi Show. Sixteen years on we are still talking (in the dark) about an archaic British law imposed on us, the country of the Kamasutra.

Surprisingly, not many have even read Section 377. The public feels it is a homosexual law, television hosts demand (with every good intention) its banning and the Indian populace at large doesn't even realize that most people are criminals under Section 377.

Let us begin by busting myth number one. This is NOT a homosexual law. The law applies to everyone, but gays from the Naz Foundation took up the issue as homosexuals were being persecuted by the police under this section of the Indian Penal Code.

Engaging in anything from frottage at the more innocent end to orgies at the extreme end, and everything oral/vaginal/anal in between, is enough to criminalize us.

Secondly, we cannot scrap Section 377. It needs to stay where it is as it applies to paedophilia and bestiality too. What we need to do is to simply amend the law to state that consenting adults indulging in sex in private are not criminals.

Now, to elaborate.

377 applies to everyone

Section 377 does not apply only to the LGBTQ community. As I mentioned, it applies to EVERYONE. This is how this section of the IPC reads:

377. Unnatural offences.--Whoever voluntarily has carnal inter¬course against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with 1[imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Heavy-duty words and a hefty punishment, straight from Victorian England. The British supposedly backed 377 by stating that it was based on the Laws of Manu. We do not want to go to Manu whose misogyny and strict taming of women from "a forest to a field" has no relevance in the modern world. What one needs to do is to simply expand "laws of nature" to include the "consenting adults in private not being criminal" angle.

In the Victorian mindset, "intercourse" and "against the law of nature" kind of implies any kind of sex other than for the purpose of procreation. Is this fair to Indians who enjoy sex? NO. Engaging in anything from frottage (go Google) at the more innocent end to orgies at the extreme end, and everything oral/vaginal/anal in between, is enough to criminalize us.

In reality, true criminals are rapists, paedophiles and those that indulge in sexual activities without consent of the abused victim, often in public and even when in private, via the Internet.

What is abhorrent is that in 2016, we are discussing the criminality of sex in private between consenting adults.

What is abhorrent is that in 2016, we are discussing the criminality of sex in private between consenting adults. Even worse is the curiosity over what happens in bedrooms between individuals. It would be perverse to think about what my friends and family do in bed. So why are so many people keen to know about what happens between my sheets? Some blatantly ask, "So what do you do? And who does what to whom?" DISGUSTING.

Why is there no amendment?

Is there a conspiracy to not amend this law? Are successive governments since 1947 blinkered, when the UK itself has decriminalized homosexuality and gone as far as legalising same-sex marriages? Why do we allow a prudish, colonial-inherited Victorian sanction on modern India? It appears that there are political and religious conspirators who wish to pass the buck. On last night's panel, political representatives insisted that the matter was in court. As if when the court gives its judgment, Parliament does not have to pass the bill as law? Or is there simply a conspiracy to not touch 377 while "on our watch", fearing that sections of the public may retaliate? Whatever the fear, it is misplaced and insults the rights of consenting Indians to do what they like in private.

Why do we allow a prudish, colonial-inherited Victorian sanction on modern India? It appears that there are political and religious conspirators who wish to pass the buck.

The reason why the topic of 377 topic was dredged out for the umpteenth time last night was an open letter by Apurva Asrani to the PM, asking why, when condolences were offered to the US for the Orlando massacre, the targeted LGBT community was not mentioned. A valid point indeed. Why they were not mentioned is debatable on television and the media. Why were America's LGBT community not mentioned, forget about emotions of Indian LGBTs?

PM Modi's tweet was crisp: "Shocked at the shootout in Orlando, USA. My thoughts & prayers are with the bereaved families and the injured."

In a way, it sends out the message that it was the loss of lives that mattered, without going into sexual orientations. I wish that same emotion applied back home: that sexual preferences do not a patriotic citizen make. More to the point, sexual preferences do not a criminal make. When I heard Anderson Cooper read out the names and occupations of the victims, it was not merely his choking, teary voice that moved me. His reading put a face to the numbers. Most touching was a cancer survivor mother with 11 children who went dancing with her gay son. She died but her son survived. It will haunt him always that she was brutally killed at the Pulse nightclub, where she went to make him happy.

It is emotions such as these that make us realize we are all human and must embrace each other with love, compassion and understanding in the modern world.

Our lofty ambitions to be a recognized global power will come crashing down like a pack of cards should we be slapped with 377 on an international forum.

Talking of understanding, there is a nagging worry in the aftermath of the Orlando killing, our PM's reaction and the debate that ensued. We need to understand the damage to the bigger picture for an India that is keen to take its place in the international arena. Modi has done a splendid PR job with India. People may complain about his absence from the country and the expenses racked up during his travels, but let's give him kudos that India is in the news for all the right reasons. Or are we? Demanding a permanent seat in the UN Security Council is applause-worthy. But what if the UN turns around and says that the LGBT human rights record of India and the country's failure to amend Section 377 means that we do not deserve a seat?

Our lofty ambitions to be a recognized global power will come crashing down like a pack of cards should we be slapped with 377 on an international forum.

I rest my case.

Section 377 must be amended.

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