What Is Nature?
Telegraph, April 4, 2005
Homosexuality is now part of public discourse in India. This is largely
because of HIV/AIDS. Men who have sex with men are a high-risk community,
although the national campaign is strangely reticent about this fact. This
link runs the risk of further stigmatizing an already persecuted minority.
HIV-related focus on male homosexuals also renders lesbians more invisible
than they have been within the gay activism, which is still a largely
metropolitan phenomenon in India. But the Supreme Court’s latest notice to
the Centre asking it to clarify its stance on what the Indian Penal Code calls
“unnatural” sexual offences interrogates this entirely pre-modern and
undemocratic status quo. Section 377 of the IPC—which punishes
“intercourse against the order of nature” with “any man, woman or
animal”—is currently used, mostly by the police, to abuse, intimidate and
extort homosexual men. And the basis of this mid-Victorian law—which fails
to imagine the existence of lesbianism—is what the Centre has been asked to
clarify, in relation to contemporary Indian society.
The previous government, quite expectedly, had answered
the court that legalizing homosexuality would “open the floodgates of
delinquent behaviour”, and that Indian society “by and large”
disapproves of homosexuality. Hence, changing the law would not make sense,
and would only worsen the HIV/AIDS scenario (because of homosexual
“licentiousness”). If this government replies along similar lines, then
that would be a profoundly regressive moment for modern India. Legalizing
homosexuality is not only imperative for “sexual health”, especially for
the prevention of HIV/AIDS. But it also touches upon some of the most
fundamental principles of human rights, or equality and justice. To define the
“order of nature” as sex for the purpose of procreation, and then to
criminalize every other form of sexual activity between consenting adults
carry prudishness to the order of inhuman oppression. Any country that takes
pride in calling itself a modern democracy ought to find such injustice
unhealthy and unnatural.
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