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India's Supreme Court decriminalises homosexuality

Signal of change / India's Supreme Court decriminalises homosexuality

By George Harding-Rolls / 06 Sep 2018

In a historic ruling, the Supreme Court of India has struck down several clauses of the controversial Section 377 that criminalised consensual sex between same-sex adults, declaring it to be unconstitutional and an infringement of individual rights. In its ruling the court apologised to the LGBT community, stating that Section 377 was based on deep-rooted majoritarian impulses to subjugate a minority.

The decision marks an important milestone and a beacon of hope in a country which has seen the rise of nationalism and a strengthening of conservatism in recent years. The Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra said, "societal morality cannot trump constitutional morality. Societal morality cannot overturn fundamental rights of even a single individual."

However, the hindu-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a highly influential right-wing organisation, said that, while it agrees with the Supreme Court's ruling that homosexuality is not a crime, it still believes "same-sex relations and same-sex marriages are not natural. This is why we do not support them. The Indian tradition has never approved of these relationships."

So what?

Although this is momentous ruling, it is just the first step in ensuring equal rights of the LGBT community in India. There is still little to no legal protection for discrimination in the workplace, and much social stigma remains, particularly away from urban metropoli.

While this marks a triumph of constitutional democracy over social morality, with many hindu-nationalist representatives still stating homosexuality to be "unnatural" and in defiance of Hindu tradition, encouraging acceptance in society will be a long, hard road. As populism in India continues to rise, through this decision the legal institution is playing its true role in upholding rights at a time when we're seeing worrying signs of populist intolerance of diversity across the world. 

Historically, unequal, divided societies fair worse in times of crisis. It is arguable that the more accepting of diversity we become as nations, communities and individuals, and the more equal the society that results, the more resilient we will be to the consequences of climate change we are beginning to experience.


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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