In a landmark Indian Supreme Court ruling today, Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah struck down Penal Code 377, overturning a colonial-era law criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal.”
The victory is a historic step forward for human rights only days after people worldwide took to the streets for gay pride, particularly in a country where LGBTQII individuals face discrimination, stigma, and violence on a daily basis.
Longtime sexual and human rights advocate Pramada Menon called today’s ruling a “wonderful moment that will live inside of me for years.”
“Did I walk into the courtroom thinking justice would prevail? I wasn’t sure,” said Menon. “But now, I cannot think of the morning [ruling] without crying. [I’ve received] calls from friends who are elated, who have come out to their families once this news was out… The battle has been worth it.”
In 2002, the Naz Foundation, a human rights organizing working on HIV/ AIDS in India, filed a Public Interest Litigation case challenging the constitutionality of this code. This law has legitimized violence and discrimination, including horrific acts of rape and torture, against transgendered, lesbian and gay people, particularly by the police.
While the original petition against 377 cited its adverse impact on HIV/ AIDS prevention efforts, the Supreme Court ruling statement was far more progressive, citing the value of an inclusive society:
“The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone… It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality, and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.”
According to the New York Times, today’s decision applies “only in the territory of India’s capital city, but it is likely to force India’s government either to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, or change the law nationwide.”
The International Women’s Health Coalition congratulates and commends our partners in bringing about this important step forward for fundamental human rights.