Good news in fall 2018- the Indian Supreme Court announced its decision to REVERSE ITSELF and declare Section 377 unconstitutional. In 2013, a group of Supreme Court justices made a terrible decision to uphold the constitutionality of India’s Victorian-era, 1860 law that criminalized homosexual behavior; that is, “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”. In the interim, times had changed AND advocates had become more savvy.
Surprisingly, all the major Indian political parties supported the Court’s decision to reconsider, including the ruling BJP party, which touts conservative Hindu rhetoric. That party’s spokesperson said “any court decision in sync with the jurisprudential developments on gay rights worldwide would be welcome.” Since 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled that LGBT folk have a constitutional right to marry, and the Indian court listed this among its reasons to reconsider.
In so many ways India is becoming modernized on human rights issues, including transgender rights. However, transgender rights have taken the lead here, probably because transexuals have historically held a special position in Indian society, even a spiritual one. Although they are persecuted in many ways, men who dress and live as women are gaining newfound rights in India. Homosexuality, however, has taken a back seat in a very patriarchal society that views heterosexual marriage as a sacred and necessary bond. Homosexuality perhaps shakes the foundations of a society whose family and caste relationships are built upon arranged marriage within the caste structure. Really allowing and accepting same-sex relationships may be antithetical to the traditional notions that people cannot choose their own partners, that children are a necessary product of marriage, and that arranged marriages are necessary to protect the caste system.
In the same issue of the Hindu newspaper announcing the Court’s decision to reconsider, I read that India just unveiled its fastest supercomputer, which will help to predict the country’s changing weather patterns due to climate change. Cyclones, battering monsoon rains, rising sea levels, heat and drought are all affecting India. The paper notes that this machine is the fourth fastest in the world for predicting weather, and moves India from the 300s to the 30s in the Top500 list of supercomputers.
India may be one of the last traditional societies to eventually accept LGBT identities and relationships. It will be interesting to watch how India’s rapid modernization, Westernization, and economic power will blend or not blend with modern, Western notions of human rights. Perhaps several brilliant gay men and women will work on this supercomputer and then come out to Indian society to say: “Look, we’re here. Accept us! It’s time!”