Rachel Brock

The Repeal of Section 377

On September 6th, the Supreme Court of India invalidated part of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, thereby decriminalising homosexual sex acts and marking a turning point in the nation’s LGBT+ history. The ramifications of this ruling at first seem obvious: LGBT+ citizens in India can now hope for a society in which they are better protected and can live a more open and honest existence without fear of ostracization and violence. Even though decriminalisation is only a first step in queer acceptance, and will not change public sentiment, it will allow for Indian homosexuals to have legal backing in the face of harassment. Previously, LGBT+ people, especially those campaigning against 377 and on the frontlines of activism, were provided little to no legal protections against violence, public attacks, and legal action. If an LGBT+ person were to be the victim of a hate crime (a very common fear amongst the queer community of India) and they decided to report it to the police, they would often find themselves arrested or attacked rather than protected.

However, if we look beyond this undeniably important surface impact there is a deeper narrative surrounding the treatment of homosexuality in India, one that engages with ideas of colonisation, the British Empire and Christian interventionism. Almost 80% of the population of India identifies as Hindu, a religion which traditionally accepts same-sex relations and features gender fluid gods, and this was demonstrated in public attitudes towards the LGBT+ community up until the mid-19th century. The British Empire arrived in India and established control, and it was the British Empire who introduced Section 377 in 1860.

The introduction of Section 377 marked the beginning of a dark period of LGBT+ history in India, with the rights and social standing of homosexual and trans people decreasing rapidly and not beginning to improve again until almost a century later. In 1947 India won its independence from the Empire, but almost 100 years of the Raj and considerably longer British occupation had done irreparable damage to queer rights. Sadly, this is a narrative that is not unique to India. The British Empire (among other colonisers) destroyed the self determination and cultural traditions of countless groups and one of the less explored avenues this took was the undermining of LGBT+ rights through religious interventionism and the aggressive introduction of Christian values in the name of progress and moral improvement. Many Native American tribes had cultural traditions surrounding gender identity that were destroyed with the arrival of colonisers, while the majority of African countries still adhere to strict anti-LGBT+ laws that were introduced with the arrival of Christian conquerors.

In the Western world we have created a narrative that paints other parts of the world as backwards and savage, and we tell our LGBT+ members of society that they should be thankful for the rights they have because they are better than those they would have in other parts of the world that aren’t as civilised and accepting as we are. The truth is the Western world is largely responsible for the course that LGBT+ history has taken in many parts of the world, and we now not only attempt to distance ourselves from the fallout by refusing to accept culpability, but we unconsciously use the legacy of destruction we have left behind to convince Western LGBT+ people to settle for a watered-down version of equality. I believe that true LGBT+ empowerment and equality can only be achieved when we learn to view it through a global lens and recognise the international patterns that have been created, rather than continuing on with our us/them mentality. The dire state of LGBT+ rights across the globe was created by the intersection of various governments and global forces, but I believe that the solution can be found the same way, as long as we learn to take responsibility for our role and stop feeling morally superior.

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