Section 377 will not be repealed any time soon
by Sandhya Jain on 31 Dec 2013 5 Comments

Barely a week after the Supreme Court of India overruled the Delhi High Court order de-criminalising homosexuality among consenting adults, a determined group of Members of Parliament in Uganda passed a stringent anti-gay law, citing the need to protect traditional family values which are being undermined by Western-inspired gay rights groups. It is increasingly likely that nations concerned with the erosion of cultural values due to intrusive western interference in their internal affairs; that wish to protect minors from predatory foreign tourists; and wish to have some legal leverage against western activists frequenting their country, may find it useful to have such a law on their statute books.


It remains to be seen if the Ugandan bill is endorsed by President Yoweri Museveni, because national and international activists have urged him not to, and because there was no quorum in the House that day (December 20). But the fact that a group of MPs resolutely moved and passed the bill – first mooted in 2009 but withheld following an international backlash – shows that this is a festering issue in that nation, among others. Homosexuality is illegal in 37 African countries.


Uganda’s law is strong. Though the original proposal to prescribe death penalty for certain homosexual acts was dropped, the bill provides stringent punishment, including life imprisonment, for homosexual acts. It bans promotion of homosexuality and makes not reporting gay people a crime punishable by prison sentence. Foreign tourists will not be exempt from prosecution under the new law. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, the driving force behind the law, had promised it to the nation as a “Christmas gift”.


The west was furious. US President Barack Obama called it “odious” and said it is “unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are”. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the law would have a detrimental effect on the fundamental rights of gay members of Ugandan society and hinder the work of human rights defenders and efforts to address HIV/AIDS. It said the bill violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Uganda has ratified. If international accords mooted by the West are used to slip in controversial agendas that supersede the laws, customs and cultural sensitivities of nations, the world may need to reconsider the utility of such accords.


South African Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu condemned the bill as comparable to apartheid, a claim that mocks the sufferings of the South African natives who have seen no improvement in their social or economic status after the end of apartheid. Amnesty International called it “wildly discriminatory” while Human Rights Watch said the amended law “still appalling”. British campaigner Peter Tatchell condemned the law’s extra-territorial jurisdiction which extended to Ugandan citizens or foreign residents of Uganda who had gay sex in countries where homosexuality is not a criminal offence. Amidst veiled threats to withdraw western aid, supporters of the new law argued that something “dramatic” needed to be done to protect traditional lifestyles from western-funded groups that were “recruiting” children into gay lifestyles.


The western reaction to the Indian apex court’s verdict was more muted, but still adverse. The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, called the judgment a “significant step backwards for India ... a blow to human rights.” The US State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry opposes any action that criminalises consensual same-sex conduct between adults. Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee raised the issue with Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh during her visit to Washington. The western media - Le Figaro and Le Monde, BBC and Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy - uniformly derided the verdict.


A western academic noted for visceral hatred of the Bharatiya Janata Party and particularly its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, wrote a long homily in an Indian newspaper on how the American law on sodomy was used to invade the privacy of couples in their bedrooms and humiliate them, until very recently. Apart from the usual liberal spiel on dignity and human rights, she warned that “such laws discourage visitors”. She said many (western) actors, sports stars, and academics, among others, would not want to visit a country where anti-gay laws exist and have been reaffirmed by the apex court.


Her university intends to open a centre for collaborative research in Delhi in March 2014, but the apex court’s verdict could well “affect our scholarly activities”; she does not explain if sex is an intrinsic part of such activities. Denouncing Russia for forbidding the advocacy of same-sex acts, she expressed frustration at the retention of the colonial era Section 377 and said “India deserves its own laws, which truly express its spirit of inclusion, freedom, and toleration”.


It is ironic that hostile westerners and secular Indians invoke our traditional (read Hindu) spirit when faced with colonial-era laws that affect their new morality (read libertine lifestyles). Yet this is precisely why these laws are likely to remain on the statute book – to protect minors, especially orphans, from predatory foreigners.


Thailand’s Pattaya beach is notorious as a hunting ground for western paedophiles. A famous orphanage set up to protect young orphan boys from predators has turned into the best source for ‘ladyboys’ (pubescent boys dressed up as girls). The foreigners shamelessly violate the minors, photograph themselves with their victims, and flaunt the pictures on social networking sites, as a cursory search on Google will show. Thailand has not found the courage to take on these predators, but India has arrested foreign nationals preying on minors in the guise of social service. 


Some years ago, a British tabloid named a famous writer settled abroad as a paedophile, though the charges were never proved. More recently, the BBC launched an investigation into charges of five decades of sexual abuse of minor boys and girls by one of its most famous presenters (since deceased). With child abuse, particularly to feed the pornography industry, rising worldwide, every country needs protective legislation. And as Indian diplomats pointed out after the scandalous treatment of diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York, Section 377 can be used to deny visas to the gay partners of foreign diplomats and thus hit them where it hurts. In the time to come, this may emerge as a weapon against the rampaging neo-colonialism of the west.

The Pioneer, 31 December 2013 

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top