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Activists hail Section 377 verdict

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Jubilation: Gay rights activists celebrating in Bangalore on Thursday.
Jubilation: Gay rights activists celebrating in Bangalore on Thursday.

Deepika Arwind

‘It is one of the many steps in the recognition of LGBT community’

BANGALORE: As soon as the verdict on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was out on Thursday morning, hundreds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their supporters gathered at the United Theological College (UTC) in jubilation.

While the reading down of the law that now decriminalises homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code may be seen as a victory that has emerged out of the Delhi High Court, it has entailed an eight-year-long legal battle fought from across the country that culminated in this epic judgment. The country now joins the ranks of 128 countries where homosexuality is not a criminal offence.

Here in Bangalore, from where hundreds of affidavits about experiences of the LGBT community went on to be part of the petition filed by the Naz Foundation from New Delhi, celebrations at UTC began with distribution of sweets.

Members of organisations such as Sangama, Samara, Good As You (GAY), Swabhava, and the Alternative Law Forum (ALF) from Bangalore, who were among the many who provided material for the litigation, were at the venue with several other supporters. Revathi, a transsexual activist, said that the community, years of the country’s Independence, finally felt like they had some legitimacy in the society. Sumathi, of Sangama, said: “We are finally no longer criminals!”

One important question being asked in the midst of the celebration is that if the read-down law would apply to courts outside the Union Territory of New Delhi.

Advocate Siddharth Narrain of the ALF explained: “Since there is no other law that now criminalises consensual sex among adults in private, all high courts and lower courts across the country will have to take cue from this particular judgment.”

He said that in the coming days the government will have to decide if it would want to appeal against the judgment. “We are hopeful that they will not,” he said.

Advocate and human rights activist B.T. Venkatesh said that while this would be one of the many steps in the recognition of the LGBT community, at least “their existence as people would finally be recognised.”

Another issue being raised among community members was that of police harassment. They wonder if the attitude of the police, especially towards the hijra community, would change with the judgment. “If nothing else, they cannot at least arrest us,” said one community member.

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