Editorial

An embarrassing stance

Earlier this week, >India voted alongside China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in favour of a Russian resolution limiting benefits to same-sex couples. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, an outspoken defender of the rights of sexual minorities, had extended benefits available to spouses of UN employees to same-sex couples. Russia moved a resolution that would allow national law to override this extension, and India supported it; the resolution was, however, defeated. On this occasion officials have been at pains to stress that the issue was one of sovereignty, not of gay rights. This is hard to believe; in September 2014, India was one of the few countries to abstain from a historic vote on violence and discrimination against sexual minorities. Highlighting India’s increasingly embarrassing isolation on an issue on which there is global consensus, that of the universality of sexual rights, the resolution was adopted. Globally, India is now in the minority, one of only 76 countries that criminalise same-sex relationships. India’s votes at the UN are in line with its domestic laws, since the colonial-era >Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalising unnatural sex — which has been interpreted to cover consensual homosexual relationships — remains on India’s statute books. A plea that detailed police harassment of homosexuals and the challenges to HIV prevention that the ghettoisation of gay men posed cleared the Delhi High Court hurdle >but not the Supreme Court. Review petitions have failed; only a >curative petition is before the Supreme Court.

The apex court can and does come to the rescue of citizens faced with unconstitutional laws and policies, but the ultimate blame for India’s retrograde stand on homosexuality must lie with its elected representatives, who could have acted to strike off Section 377 from the statute books. Gay rights are human rights and India cannot pretend to be a democracy when it refuses to recognise the existence and choices of a significant minority of its population. Indian law has been marked by its commitment to full safeguards against the trampling by majority groups of the rights of minority social groups. The natural progression of a democracy’s expanding definition of freedoms must be reflected in its recognition of sexual minorities, as most of the world has already done. That the United Progressive Alliance could not find the moral courage to set right this historical wrong should not stop the National Democratic Alliance from writing a new future. The new government appears to care deeply about how it is perceived overseas. It should then recognise that its regressive stance on gay rights would militate against its aspirations to be seen as a modernising society.

Corrections and Clarifications

A sentence in the Editorial, “ >An embarrassing stance” (March 27, 2015) said: “This is hard to believe; in September 2014, India was one of the few countries to abstain from a historic vote on violence and discrimination again sexual minorities. It should have been against.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 1:57:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/an-embarrassing-stance/article7036457.ece

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