Last edited: April 18, 2005

Grow Up

The Telegraph, April 11, 2005
Calcutta, India
Letters to Editor

Sir—With gay and lesbian rights groups leading the campaign against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, this Victorian provision has come to be understood as a law which makes homosexuality an offence (“SC notice on homosexuals”, April 2). Even media reports suggest the same. Section 377 does not criminalize homosexuality per se, but any form of sex that is not peno-vaginal. Which means even heterosexuals engaging in consensual anal or oral sex can be booked. Thus the campaign against this law must be one which challenges all attempts by the state to regulate consensual sexual behaviour between adults and not one that looks at it as an entirely gay-rights issue. Or, one that looks at its inadequacies in addressing the issue of child sexual abuse.

Fears about opening “the floodgates of delinquent behaviour” and AIDS are completely unfounded. Decriminalizing all consensual sexual activities between adults, including same-sex behaviour, will allow the sexual minorities better access to information and services to enjoy a fulfilling and safe sexual life. It is nothing but moral panic that has allowed Section 377 to remain, while the similar provision in the British laws was done away with in 1965.

Yours faithfully,
Oishik Sircar, Calcutta

Sir—While I agree in the main with its advocacy of the repeal of Section 377, the editorial, “What is nature?” (April 4), gives the impression that criminalizing sodomy and other sexual acts “against the order of nature” is equivalent to criminalizing homosexuality. But sodomy performed between a man and a woman is also a punishable offense under Section 377. Moreover, legalizing homosexuality involves not only decriminalizing all types of sexual acts between two consenting adults, but also giving homosexuals the right to marry each other, and the marriage the same legal status as a heterosexual one.

It is true that men having sex with men are a high-risk group for HIV infection and that the government of India has done little to acknowledge this. But it is somewhat unfair to state that India’s national campaign against HIV/AIDS is “strangely reticent” about it. In recent years, the National AIDS Control Organization has been supportive of AIDS prevention programmes of some homosexual groups like Humsafar in Mumbai and Saathi in Calcutta. Only 3 per cent of the over 5.1 million estimated HIV-positive population in India is reported to belong to the community of men having sex with men.

Yours faithfully,
Moni Nag, New York 

Sir—The Supreme Court seems to be favourably inclined to repealing Section 377 of IPC. But there is no talk about a same-sex marriage law. Doing the one without the other will do more harm than good. Society needs to first decide whether sex between two persons of the same gender is moral or immoral. If it is moral, same-sex marriages should be allowed. If not, Section 377 too must continue. The law, as it is now, is at least consistent.

What would legalizing homosexuality mean without the permission to marry? With whom should homosexuals have sex then? And wouldn’t society then be condoning immorality—since it would be going against the accepted association of marriage with sex?

Theoretically speaking, it is not even necessary to repeal Section 377 to allow same-sex marriages. Heterosexual couples can and do indulge in both anal and oral sex—both of which are illegal according to the law—while a large percentage of male homosexuals do not like anal sex.

Yours faithfully,
Jayant Kumar, New Delhi

Sir—It is high time homosexuality is legalized. After all, how can one have a society that is liberal in religion, economics, art and culture but prudish in its ideas of homosexuality and lesbianism? What is said to be “against nature” has been in practice since time immemorial. Also homosexuals, if not integrated into society, could become the vehicle for the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases and HIV. After all, it is better to open the can than to let the contents stink. What the law must do is guard against brutality, and protect the underage and the unwilling.

Yours faithfully,
Pijush Banerjee, Calcutta

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