Home / Opinion / Blogs /  Section 377 ruling: What happened in Supreme Court on Wednesday

On a clear Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court of India was a sight to behold—a burst of colours in a territory otherwise marked by black and white, a palpable buzz, contagious energy and an air of expectation.

Huge number of activists, supporters and members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community claimed the corridors of the apex court on the historic day when it would decide whether adult homosexual members of our society who express their sexuality through consensual acts can be branded as criminals and hauled up by the law.

“Big day! Hopefully, big win!" an LGBT rights activist told her group.

Journalists and lawyers—the regulars—trickled into court no. 1, the domed, daunting court room where history was to be scripted. The visitors’ gallery was overflowing, waiting and watching. Stories were exchanged about the time Delhi high court declared the penal provision, Section 377, “unconstitutional". The judge pronouncing the verdict had to stop speaking as the court room burst into celebration, clapping and cheering.

At 10.30am, three judges trooped in and a silence fell on the courtroom—complete silence. Justice G.S. Singhvi, a soft-spoken man, said a few words. The audience caught very few of those words, but one sentence stood out—“high court judgement is set aside".

A few minutes passed and the silence turned into a disappointed hush as people walked out. The court had declared the Delhi high court ruling incorrect.

Section 377 stood revived—to criminalize homosexual individuals.

The mood changed dramatically to one of disbelief and disappointment. Everyone, perhaps even the religious factions that had challenged the decision, was shocked. Those expectant now broke down. A few remained calm and said they would fight back.

“You can’t break down right now. The fight is not over yet, we will continue. This is not over yet," one friend told another.

Before the ruling the imagined worst case scenario was that the question would be referred to a larger bench. Those who believed that Singhvi, thought capable of taking difficult decisions, would make history on the day of his retirement, were lost for words.

“It is shocking that he has given such a decision. He has always taken a pro-people stand. It is hard to believe that he would render a judgement which will continue to discriminate against a good number of the population," said a lawyer involved in the case.

Given that the matter had been under the court’s consideration for nearly two years and that the case had been heard for three weeks by a bench that had engaged closely with the issues involved, the decision was unexpected.

“It is harsh, to put it mildly," said an onlooker.

Another lawyer in the matter said, “While we are waiting to read the verdict, it is hard to imagine how the court could disagree with the high court decision which relied extensively on constitutional provisions, including Article 21—the right to life—to reach its conclusion.

“It is hard to find room for change with a verdict like that."

What next, asked some of those present.

Legally, it is a tough battle now, experts say. A review, if sought, is unlikely to reverse the decision as the matter will then be considered by the same bench. Justice S.J. Mukhpadhaya, who decided the matter with Singhvi, will reconsider the matter with another judge.

Another lawyer who represented some of the original petitioners said that even if the matter is heard again, the Supreme Court ruling will be the precedent, which will weaken the matter from the start.

The options are limited, and for now, disappointment is the visible sentiment. As the crowds departed, someone shouted out, “It is a fight for another day."

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