Sonia Gandhi promises action on Section 377 after SC verdict
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New Delhi: Risking political backlash, the Congress party on Thursday condemned the Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 2009 Delhi high court verdict that decriminalized consensual sex between adult homosexuals.
While the party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is planning to file a curative petition, the Congress party is pushing Parliament for a legislation to overturn the Supreme Court’s order, delivered on Wednesday.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was non-committal in its stance on the order, the Congress leadership came out publicly against the Supreme Court ruling that upheld a 1860 law criminalizing gay sex and said Parliament should amend the archaic law.
“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has reversed the previous Delhi high court ruling on the issue of gay rights. The high court had wisely removed an archaic, repressive and unjust law that infringed on the basic human rights enshrined in our constitution,” Congress president Sonia Gandhi said in a statement, in a rare reaction to a court order.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who chose to address reporters at the party headquarters, said: “My personal view is that these are matters of personal freedom. I think I would agree more with the high court. I think these types of matters should be left to individuals. These are their choices. The country is known for its freedom of expression. That is what I think.”
Pointing out that the Indian Constitution has given a “great legacy, a legacy of liberalism and openness that enjoin us to combat prejudice and discrimination of any kind,” Sonia Gandhi said. “We are proud that our culture has always been an inclusive and tolerant one.”
She pointed out that Supreme Court also suggested another course. The judgement said: “Notwithstanding this verdict, the competent legislature shall be free to consider the desirability and propriety of deleting Section 377 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) from the statute book or amend the same.”
Following Sonia Gandhi’s statement, the Congress-led UPA government, which was ambiguous in its position on the matter, was quick in responding by saying that it will seek legal options to legalize gay sex.
Responding to questions on the options available with the government, law minister Kapil Sibal said: “One of the options could be to bring it to Parliament at the earliest. The other option could be to approach the Supreme Court or take any other route. We will adopt the approach which will give us quick results.”
Finance minister P. Chidambaram said the Supreme Court ruling was “wrong” and all options would be looked at to set it right. Terming the judgement “disappointing”, Chidambaram said the court should have applied “current social and moral values” in the case. He said the government should file a review or curative petition and that the matter should be heard by a five-bench judge.
The BJP, however, preferred to play safe and said it will take a stand on the matter if the Manmohan Singh dispensation calls an all-party meeting and presents a proposal for amending Section 377 of the IPC that deals with the issue.
“The Supreme Court has also said the Parliament can legislate on this issue. Government can call an all-party meeting and we will tell our view there on the issue after seeing the government proposal,” the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, told reporters.
The Congress leadership’s public support for gay rights may be welcomed by activists across the world, who condemned the order saying it has taken the country back to colonial era.
But not all Congressmen are pleased.
“I do not know why the Congress president has issued such a statement. It might look good to people in urban areas, but in a conservative society, it will not be taken in good spirit. This is a too liberal stand and there could be political backlash,” said a senior Congress Lok Sabha member, requesting anonymity.
The political class was clearly divided. While Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party said his party supports the decision of the Supreme Court because homosexuality is “completely against the culture of the nation”, the communist parties wanted Parliament to discuss the matter.
Experts feel the issue should be above politics.
“This (the Supreme Court order) is a regressive decision and it will go down in the history of judicial decisions as a decision which should not have been taken. This issue has nothing to do with elections or politics. There are people within the Congress party who are supporting the decision of the Supreme Court. People who are regressive are only opposing it,” said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a political analyst and a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
Gyan Varma and PTI contributed to this story.