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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The inhuman nature of article 377

Unnatural offences 377. Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

While the law has been rarely implemented; and people caught under this law have been discharged with minor sentences; this law together with Capital Punishment remain as big blots of the Indian legal system and a bad reflection of the Indian society. Recently, 150 notable individuals from Vikram Seth, M J Akbar to Amartya Sen wrote a protest letter demanding the repeal of the law.

Societies worldwide are increasingly accepting the rights of same sex couples. Most European countries and a few US states have gone further ahead and legalized same sex marriages. Our Indian society is yet to grant the citizens the individual right to choose his/ her fantasies and practice. The law was passed in 1861 by a British government seeped in Victorian morality. While we refined many of these laws and even allowed males of certain sections to practice polygamy and instant divorce; we continue to treat consensual same sex couples as criminals. No government, society, or individual has the right to intervene in the bed room privacy of individuals as long as he indulges in mutually consensual practices with his/ her partner. And why should anything against the order of nature be punishable by law as long as it doesn’t cause harm to others? Do we lock up for 10 years physical disabled, mentally imbalanced and diseased people? After all their misfortunes are also against the order of nature. The law smacks of Nazi Germany when homosexuals were persecuted along with the Jews and Gypsies. Also, we follow a common law system where civil laws are based on traditional practices and customs of the society. And the majority religion in India never had anything against same sex relationships and activities. In fact, there are carvings in Konark depicting such activities; practices of worshipping idols of male genitals (linga) and picturization of male gods with feminine features also suggest permissiveness of same sex relationships in the majority religion.

And even if we ignore all these rationales; the law infringes upon basic human rights. The same sex couples not only have to bear the burnt of societies scorn; they also have to put up many times with police machinations. Though this law causes inconvenience to only a few; it can only do our society good if we strike it down. And yes, strike down capital punishment too.

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