Development & Education

A colonial-era law against same-sex relationships goes back on the books in India

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Credit: Mansi Thapliyal/Reuters

Participants dance under a a rainbow flag as they attend the sixth Delhi Queer Pride parade, an event promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, in New Delhi on November 24, 2013.

The Delhi High Court's 2009 ruling decriminalizing gay sexual relationships was seen as a major step forward in recognizing gay rights in the country.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

The gay community celebrated, and some people were even prompted to come out of the closet in light of what had happened.

Fast forward to this week, when the gay community was shocked by the Indian Supreme Court's decision to reverse the earlier ruling. The 153-year-old law that's back in effect calls a same-sex relationship an "unnatural offence" punishable by 10 years in jail.

Journalist Rhitu Chatterjee in Delhi followed the reactions to the Supreme Court's decision.

"Within hours of the announcement of the news, a newspaper announced an online poll, asking people whether they support the decision, oppose it, or are neutral towards it. Last time I checked, more than 80 percent were against it," she says.

There was also an online campaign called "Gay for a day", where users were asked to take pictures of themselves and their friends of the same sex while kissing and post them online. Chatterjee says she has seen some "touching and amazing pictures."

The ruling also led to a frank discussion about the relationship between Hinduism and homosexuality.

"There were posts on my Facebook page where people said, 'if you are Hindu and you say Hinduism views homosexuality unnatural, go back and read our scriptures and [see our] ancient temple art," Chatterjee says.

In some of the scriptures, she says, there are outright depictions of homosexual acts.

Chatterjee says attitudes toward gay people in India have changed in recent years. She says a gay pride parade she attended recently would have never been possible even eleven years ago. She says she didn't even know any openly gay people back then.

"Coming back home and seeing that Delhi was having its sixth queer pride parade, it's a huge, huge change," she adds.

Chatterjee says the court ruling is a setback, but she says a recent headline sums up the new reality in India:

"We are queer and we are here to stay. Supreme Court if you think your decision is going to move India back to 10 years ago, that's not going to happen."

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