Section 377 verdict: What’s next for India?

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  • The world’s largest democracy finally decriminalised homosexual intercourse yesterday and scrapped the controversial Section 377.
  • While this decision by the country’s highest court is certainly significant, there needs to be more of an impetus for social change and removing ignorance from society.
  • After decriminalisation, the focus should be on implementing LGTBQ rights in marriage, inheritance, adoption and surrogacy.
In a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of India, Section 377 was finally scrapped from the Indian Penal Code. A part of Indian law since 1861, Section 377 deemed sexual intercourse ‘against the order of nature’ leading to imprisonment of 10 years up to life, as well as a fine.

The removal of this section ties into the basic civil right of privacy, freedom and equality. Any individual has the right to choose how they wish to live their life without being discriminated against in society.

That being said, while the removal of Section 377 takes a huge step in that direction, there's still a lot more that has to be done for true equality to be implemented on the ground level.

Battling the stigma

As Justice Rohinton Nariman’s verdict states, “We further declare that such groups are entitled to the protection of equal laws, and are entitled to be treated in society as human beings without any stigma being attached to any of them.”

Despite that, prominent public figures in India have issued statements in the past that range from being ignorant to plain abuse. While one can hope that the removal of Section 377 will change their minds, various debates on the subject across multiple news channels exhibit otherwise.

There needs to be a campaign to not only to raise awareness but to educate people on what homosexuality is. According to Justice Nariman the government should conduct programmes to end the stigma around homosexuality and individuals employed with the government should receive workshops to sensitise them to subject.

That being said, the initiative would a long way if it was implemented in the school system and workplace as well. In a country where basic sex education isn’t even implemented in schools, awareness against judgement and prejudice is all the more important.

The path forward

The next step of the Indian government after decriminalizing homosexuality is to allow for same-sex marriages. It will take time to happen, but like in other countries around the world, it could be brought in as an interim measure. Civil partnerships should be recognised as binding across all sectors some which include insurance, inheritance, surrogacy, adoption or childbirth. Currently, there's no law in place to battle discrimination at that level.

More than addressing discrimination, it’s also about the realisation of fundamental human rights. For instance, the current law on rape is inadequate to address non-consensual sex between same-sex individuals. And, the same follow through when it comes to sexual harrassment.

There’s a lot of conversation about how Section 377 the legacy of the British rule in India. But even the United Kingdom, excluding Northern Ireland, passed the legislation allowing for same-sex marriage back in 2013.

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