Indian cultural leaders unite against 'archaic' gay sex law

Troy Espera | September 19, 2006

Leading Indian writers, artists, lawyers and academics presented an open letter to the government last week urging the abolition of British colonial era law that criminalizes homosexuality.

The group, led by author Vikram Seth, condemned Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code as an attack on human rights and fundamental freedoms and called it an "archaic and brutal law" that must be struck down immediately.

The law, formulated in 1861 and currently being challenged in the courts, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail for engaging in gay sex.

"It has been used to systematically persecute, blackmail, arrest and terrorize sexual minorities," said the letter, released in New Delhi on Saturday and addressed to the government, judiciary officials and Indian citizens, Reuters reports.

"It has spawned public intolerance and abuse, forcing tens of millions of gay and bisexual men and women to live in fear and secrecy, at tragic cost to them and their families."

According to Reuters, Section 377 is often misused by police looking for a quick bribe from men caught showing affection in public.

"It is especially disgraceful that Section 377 has on several recent occasions been used by homophobic officials to suppress the legitimate work of HIV-prevention groups, leaving gay and bisexual men in India even more defenseless against HIV infection," the Seth letter continued.

Though discussing issues like consensual sex, technically speaking, continue to be illegal, The Times of India reports that one of the panelists at a discussion to launch the campaign was a member of Planning Commission.

Syeda Hameed, who represents the health section of the Commission, in trying to capture the government's dilemma, told The Times, "The fact that I am here shows there is a change in the outlook in government circles." She added that a change in mindset must be brought about gradually.

Former UN under-secretary-general Nitin Desai said India belongs to a shrinking minority that still sees gays as criminals.

"Hong Kong overturned its anti-sodomy law in 1980 and very few developing countries in South America dub same-sex relations as illegal," he told Reuters.

Desai told The Hindustan Times, "Such relationships do not harm anyone. These relationships are consensual and are not treated as criminal activities in most parts of the world.�

"By not recognizing them, there will be more problems in the fight against AIDS," he said, adding that homosexuals should be treated as a minority and their rights protected. – Issued by Gay Link Content

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