No room for gays, declares India’s army chief four months after landmark verdict

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  • In September 2018, India’s Supreme Court struck down Section 377 and Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, two colonial era law that had criminalised homosexuality and adultery.
  • At an annual press conference today, India’s Army Chief, Bipin Rawat, said that the rulings would not apply to the country’s soldiers, citing the conservative nature of the military establishment.
  • He further explained that once a person joins the Indian army, they aren’t necessarily subject to the same rights and privileges, saying “Some things are different for us.”

In September 2018, a five-bench judge of India’s Supreme Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial era law from 1861 that had criminalised homosexuality and called it “unnatural.” In the same month, the apex court also scrapped Section 497 of the IPC, which banned adultery between consenting partners.

Both these verdicts got India international praise. For example, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called the verdict on Section 377 a "landmark" judgment, explaining it would herald “vital changes.”

However, the Indian army won’t abide by any of these.

At an annual press conference today, India’s Army Chief, Bipin Rawat, didn’t mince any words about how the ruling applied to the country’s soldiers. “We will not allow this to happen in the Army," Rawat clarified, citing the conservative nature of the military establishment.

When pressed on the soldiers’ right to freedom, he further explained that once a person joins the Indian army, they aren’t necessarily subject to the same rights and privileges, saying “Some things are different for us.”

At the time, however, there were some doubts as to whether the Indian Army would subscribe to the order, given that same-sex relations are implicitly banned by the Armed Forces Act under the guise of “civil offences” or “unbecoming conduct.”

Rawat isn’t alone since other countries, especially in Asia, have banned gay sex in the Army. However, he risks undermining a law that stands to revolutionise the country’s approach to individual freedom.

On the other hand, a number of countries around the world allow openly gay people to serve in the military such as the UK, Israel, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Chile, Brazil and the US, which lifted the ban as recently as 2011.

While it is obvious that Rawat did not want to shake up the ethos and belief structure of a 114-year old institution, one can’t help thinking that his views seem a bit antiquated.
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