Latest chapter in legal battle between social and religious conservatives and gay community over law passed by British
India’s supreme court has agreed to re-examine a previous judgment that upheld a law criminalising homosexuality, offering hope to gay rights organisations that have been holding vigils and demonstrations in Delhi.
A panel of three judges said the ruling in 2013 would be revisited by a larger bench of judges.
“It is definitely a step forward,” lawyer Anand Grover said as activists gathered outside the courtroom cheered.
The 2013 judgment reinstated colonial-era legislation that in effect outlawed gay sex and stunned many in India, overturning decades of slow progress andprompting protests.
The referral to a large bench of judges is the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle between India’s social and religious conservatives and the gay community over the law passed by the British in the 1860s.
In 2009, the Delhi high court effectively legalised gay sex in a landmark ruling that said the ban infringed on the fundamental rights of Indians. That ruling emboldened activists, who started to campaign publicly against widespread discrimination and violence.
But the supreme court reinstated the ban in 2013, saying responsibility for changing the law rested with lawmakers not the courts.
Gay people and campaigners lodged a last-ditch curative petition – or appeal – to the supreme court to have the judgment reviewed and overturned.
Prosecutions for gay sex are rare, but activists say corrupt police use the reimposed law to harass and threaten gay people.
Gay sex has long been a taboo subject in conservative India, where homophobic tendencies abound. A lawmaker’s attempt to introduce a private member’s bill into parliament to decriminalise gay sex failed in December.