CPM is the first to promise to uphold sexual minority rights in its manifesto. Others must follow.
At least two political parties have signalled their intent to work for the removal of Section 377, the colonial-era abomination that allows the state to punish “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. The CPM’s national manifesto has promised that the party will push for an amendment of the oppressive law recently held up by the courts.
While the Aam Aadmi Party has not come out with a manifesto yet, it is widely expected to champion such an amendment too. If that happens, there will be, for the first time, a clear political platform in favour of this necessary change. The Congress leadership has also unequivocally supported scrapping this “archaic, repressive and unjust law that infringes on basic human rights”, though many in the party may disagree with these views.
While Section 377 is mostly used to deny and harass LGBT citizens, it includes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in the same category as paedophilia, bestiality and rape. This blunt tool of repression had been read down in 2009 by the Delhi High Court in a wise, constitutionally sound judgement that pointed out how discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation contradicted the principles of equality and inclusion.
But last December, the Supreme Court undid that interpretation, retaining Section 377 in the form it has existed for a century and a half, throwing away the opportunity to affirm human rights. While a curative petition on Section 377 is pending, the hope for a legal solution is now flickering, as the SC passed the responsibility of amending the legislation to Parliament.
This is going to be a much harder, longer haul. Legislatures, as representatives of the people, cannot take leaps of the imagination or antagonise perceived public opinion. While parties that represent religious interests are likely to oppose the dilution of this law, most mainstream parties have elements of cultural conservatism, and it will not be easy to build a majority for this cause without effort, advocacy and social mobilisation.
In situations where public morality constricts the freedoms and constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens, it is the court’s special duty to lead the way. That hasn’t happened. But now the political party’s decision to commit to fighting Section 377 is a thin silver lining in a bleak time.