Gay rallies common outside India: high court judge

July 4th, 2008 - 9:50 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 4 (IANS) Five days after India’s capital held its first gay rally, a judge of the Delhi High Court observed Friday that such rallies were common abroad and so there was no need to “hype the matter”. Justice A.K. Sikri, heading a special bench of the court, made the observation while dealing with a petition seeking decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults.

“These kinds of ‘rallies’ are very common outside India and I have personally participated in one at London wherein more than five million persons participated and the event was a huge success, so we should not unnecessarily hype the matter here,” Sikri said.

The bench transferred the case to the chief justice and posted it for July 21.

Naz Foundation, an NGO that had filed the petition seeking decriminilisation of homosexual acts among consenting adults, pleaded that the case be heard on a day-to-day basis, as the matter is urgent.

On Tuesday, the chief justice had adjourned the hearing after noting that another bench, which was hearing the matter earlier, had not transferred the case yet. The bench headed by Sikri has done so now.

In the last hearing on May 22, Sikri’s bench had sought the assistance of the Attorney General in dealing with the petition that sought an amendment to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which declares all homosexual acts criminal, with a maximum life imprisonment punishment.

The petition filed by Naz Foundation seeks the court’s direction to declare Section 377 “unconstitutional”. The petition contends it violated a citizen’s fundamental right and promoted illegal sex.

“Section 377 demeans a gay man. It silences a gay man into accepting the discrimination against him. He will not come out to declare his orientation,” the NGO contended.

The centre in its reply had taken a contradictory stand with the home ministry favouring the retention of the penal provision while the health ministry was against the enforcement of Section 377 in cases involving consenting adults.

“Indian society strongly disapproves of homosexuality and disapproval is strong enough to justify it being treated as a criminal offence even where consenting adults indulge in it in private,” the home ministry had said in its affidavit.

“Deletion of the section can open floodgates of delinquent behaviour and be misconstrued as providing unbridled licence for homosexual acts,” it had said.

The health ministry, on the other hand, said: “Enforcement of Section 377 can adversely contribute to pushing the persons suffering from HIV underground which would make such risky sexual practices go unnoticed,” said an affidavit filed by National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), which comes under the Ministry of Health.

Pointing to the vulnerability of homosexuals to HIV infection, the NACO had said that there were around 2.5 million male homosexuals and around eight percent of them were infected with HIV whereas among heterosexuals the infection rate was only one percent.

“Men having sex with men (MSM) are mostly reluctant to reveal same-sex behaviour due to fear of law enforcing agencies, pushing the infection underground and making it difficult to access them,” the affidavit by NACO had said, adding that around 69 percent of the MSM know about preventing infection but only 36 percent use condoms.

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