New Delhi, India — India’s top court reinstated a colonial-era law against gay sex on Wednesday, overturning a lower court ruling that had decriminalized homosexuality, in a disappointing surprise setback for rights campaigners in the conservative country.
Section 377 of the Indian penal code says that whoever voluntarily commits “carnal acts against the order of nature” shall be punished up to 10 years imprisonment.
The 2009 lower court (Delhi High Court) ruling said the 19th century law violates the fundamental rights of Indians.
Amnesty International called Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling a “body blow to people’s rights to equality, privacy and dignity”.
“This is a day of mourning for all Indians. The High Court ruling was one of the finest judgements for minority rights and for inclusion,” said Colin Gonsalves, a well-known Indian human rights lawyer and founder of the Human Rights Law Network.
“This is a wrong and retrograde approach to fundamental rights. That the legislature should take it up and not the court is an obsolete notion,” he said.
G S Singhvi in the Supreme Court found that the Delhi High Court had overstepped its boundaries and that the gay sex law was constitutionally valid, according to reports.
“It is up to parliament to legislate on this issue,” said Singhvi in the judgement.
India is a deeply conservative society, where many religious groups believe homosexuality should be prohibited because they view it as unnatural, especially Christians and Muslims.
“This is not a retrograde judgement,” a lawyer for a Muslim charity, which appealed against the lower court’s decision, said after the ruling, Reuters reported.“All the communities – Muslims, Christians, the majority community of Hindus – have all challenged the judgement of the Delhi High Court.”
Some conservative groups also argued that homosexuality would allow AIDS and HIV to spread and create a health hazard to people.