‘No going back’

After 157 years, India finally overturns colonial-era ban on gay sex

After a protracted legal battle, India’s Supreme Court has finally ruled to overturn a 157-year-old colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality, a decision that could have broad implications for a number of other former members of the British Commonwealth that continue to employ similar prohibitions on non-heterosexual sex. The judges ruled unanimously to decriminalize same sex relationships on Thursday, acknowledging in their judgment that the law had been used to persecute the LGBT community and that how people choose to identify sexually should be protected as a constitutional right.

The landmark decision came just five years after the Supreme Court previously upheld the ban on non-heterosexual sex after the controversial law was first struck down by the Delhi High Court in 2009. In their 2013 ruling, two Supreme Court justices wrote in majority opinions upholding the ban that no one had been unfairly persecuted by the law since LGBT individuals were just a “minuscule fraction” of the country’s population, with one justice going so far as to say that he had never even actually met a gay person. The stunning decision led to increasing pushes for awareness for LGBT activists who rallied under the slogan, “No Going Back.”

“Post-2013 the fear was that people would go back in the closet, blackmail rates would rise,” recalled Bombay-based journalist and queer rights activist Vikram Doctor. “Some of that did happen — blackmail rates have actually risen, there are many cases of people facing discrimination at work, and so on — but what didn’t happen was people going back into the closet.”

Even while hailing Thursday’s decision, many activists warned that those most at risk for blackmail or persecution — including transgender prostitutes in particular — would likely find their lives unchanged by the reversal.

“The fear of violence and extortion is the highest for trans people,” said Chayanika Shah, the founder of rights group Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action. “Even if they are not picked up for 377, they will be picked up for begging or soliciting or creating a nuisance or anything the police likes, really. It’s only one less section that can be applied for them. It’s only for gay men who have caste and class on their side that repealing the law makes a huge difference.”

In 37 Commonwealth countries, LGBT activists are still struggling to end colonial-era prohibitions on non-heterosexuality. Later this year, Kenya and Botswana are expected to engage in their own legal challenge of the same law struck down by India on Thursday.

Read the full story at BuzzFeed.

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