Members of the Oxford India Society and LGBTQ Society attended a rally in Soho Square last Sunday protesting the recent ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that effectively re-criminalizes homosexual sex. The protest, which organizers say drew around 200 people, was part of a “Global Day of Rage.”
“Because we can’t all be in India at this crucial time, we’ve got to lend our voices from everywhere we are in the world, as Indians and as supporters of LGBT rights,” said Shreya Atrey, a DPhil student in Law who attended the event. “We were together in London for support. But also perhaps to get support. The Koushal ruling and reasoning are both devastating,” she added.
The action in London was one of many events that took place in over 35 cities in India and around the world on Sunday. Protesters held signs with slogans that read “no going back” and “make love legal.” International Development student Sneha Krishnan, also at the event, said, “it was important to go to London to show collective dissent and anger at what is a deeply violative act on the part of the Supreme Court of India.”
A 2009 ruling from the Delhi High Court had previously read down parts of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the colonial-era law that made “unnatural sex” or “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” punishable offences. But the Indian Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 377 last week, claiming that it was wrong for the judiciary to have previously weighed into the matter. Instead, they argued that this was an issue for Parliament to decide.
Atrey, who described the ruling as “a major setback for the world’s largest democracy,” says she wasn’t expecting the decision. She sees a bright side to last week’s outcome though: “now that it has happened, the widespread condemnation of the Koushal ruling has created a robust movement for challenging our social, cultural and moral values, outside the legal realm.” Nikita Kaushal, Oxford India Society member and Earth Sciences student, concurred, “the liberal backlash that resulted from the ruling has perhaps strengthened the LGBT movement in India in a way that a positive ruling might not have.”
There are still some very real concerns, however. With the reinstatement of Section 377 those who have anal intercourse could face imprisonment for up to 10 years or for life and a fine. Kaushal worries that “some Indians will choose or be forced to stay abroad just because the society back home will not understand the choices they make.”
There are not currently more protests planned in Oxford or London but the organizers are keen to keep the momentum going. And, as Kaushal points out, “having a natural relationship in the bedroom is now an act of protest, a civil disobedience.”