Last edited: April 18, 2005

What Is Nature?

The Telegraph, April 4, 2005
Calcutta, India

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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