A Colonial Hangover: some thoughts on “Section 377”

“The Indian Penal Code as it criminalizes consensual sexual acts of adults in private is violative of Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.”  These words in the Delhi High Court judgment of 1st July, 2009 have put the whole position clearly and unambiguously.  Indeed, it is surprising that an outmoded colonial law introduced during Victorian times should have remained on our Statute Book for so many years since independence.   The motivation for the law by our former colonial masters was clearly to prevent any physical contact between the young British civil and military officers who came out to administer India and the ‘natives’, and it was repealed in the United Kingdom decades ago.  We   are perhaps the last democratic country in the world to have decriminalized gay sex, and now join 126 countries around the world that have already done so. This will come as a long awaited relief to a particularly vulnerable section of society which, even if it is pegged at 2% of our population against the generally accepted figure of 10%, would involve over 20 million people.


The judgment has sparked off a lively debate on television which, along with the printed media, has been largely supportive.  Some points need to be clarified.  The judgment in no way propagates gay sex; all it does is to ensure the fundamental right of equality, non-discrimination and personal liberty guaranteed to every Indian citizen under our Constitution.  It is also important to note that it does not decriminalize non-consensual sex or pedophilia, which will remain cognizable offence subject to severe punishment.


The argument that some religious leaders are against the judgment cannot become a deciding factor.  I recall that when in the early 50s, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar piloted the Hindu Court Bill through Parliament, there were a large number of Hindu leaders including some Shankaracharyas who were strongly opposed to it, as was the then President.  Nonetheless, they pushed it through, thereby ensuring that 800 million Hindus in India today live in a much more equitable and fair society than heretofore.  Similarly, all Christian denominations are not against gay sex.  The Roman Catholic Church certainly is, and it is also against contraception, but that does not mean that we should stop our family welfare and condom distribution programmes. As far as the Muslim community is concerned, the conservative leaders will certainly take a rigid attitude, but younger people are likely to be less dogmatic, and if one looks at the great Sufi tradition within Islam, we find that they celebrated love, both human and divine, in all its multifaceted glory.


The argument that this is against nature is also not viable.  To begin with, for the gay or LGBT community, their particular lifestyle is apparently as natural as heterosexual relationships are to the rest of society.  Also this argument of nature can be pushed to extremes.  It is not ‘natural’ to wear clothes; or to eat cooked food. Nature is much more varied and inclusive than many realize, and alternative sexuality has been found in almost all cultures, ancient and modern, around the world.


It is often forgotten that some of the greatest artists and musicians, rulers and conquerors, philosophers and poets in history have been gay or bisexual.  Same-sex love formed the basis of the ancient Greek civilization that produced such great thinkers as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who laid the philosophical foundations of Western civilization.  In India also, the Kama Sutra clearly mentions same-sex love in a very matter of fact manner, and the Khajuraho sculptures depict it graphically. In our magnificent iconography, the ultimate integration of the masculine and feminine archetypes is found in the great concept of Shiva Ardhanareshwara, while in the broader philosophical context, the Vedanta believes that the divine resides in all human beings, in which case discrimination on any basis including sexual preference is unacceptable.

To conclude, therefore, one can say that the historic judgment of the Delhi High Court marks a positive step in widening the scope of our inclusive democratic structure, and rescuing millions of citizens from the shadow of an archaic and outmoded colonial legacy.

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6 Responses to
“A Colonial Hangover: some thoughts on “Section 377””

  1. Pramada Menon Says:

    July 16th, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Thank you so much Mr.Singh for a well balanced and nuanced piece.

  2. Ekta Says:

    July 16th, 2009 at 11:18 am

    It was appalling to read the responses of many educated people when the Delhi HC passed the judgement! But it was equally reassuring to read your informed and logical take on it.

    It is likely to become a widely circulated piece over the internet :) Thanks for writing.

  3. manju khan Says:

    July 20th, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Dear Dr. Singh,
    It was good to read your informed and rational views aftr all the shrill voices heard.
    Hopefully it will influence our lawmakers
    manju khan

  4. Venkatramana Srinivasan Says:

    December 3rd, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    how can one say one thought is natural vs another different thought is unnatural? If it arises from somebody elses brain and different from mine can it be labeled unnatural?

    Why did it take India so long to break from the clutches of British law?
    What spurred our politicians and judges to give this ruling is my question.

  5. Sudhir Kumar Says:

    June 26th, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I totally agree with Maharaja Saheb’s position- which is in sync with Bharatiya argumentative, decentered, and plural culture. But, I am afraid, that greatest possible harm can be done to the spirit of Bharat by those who peddle the postmodern cultural or moral relativism that approves of “anything goes” and miconstrue Indian tradition as “mulya -nirapeksha”. Even Vatsyayana, the compiler/writer of the Kamasutra, grounds the practice of sex/sexuality in the discourse of “dharma”( ethically desirable sexual preferences). What would Gandhi say on this?
    I implore Maharaja saheb to enlighten me on this.
    Sudhir Ku mar,Prof of English, Panjab University, Chandigarh-160014 Mob:- 09876675149

  6. Subhojit Says:

    August 23rd, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Just checked at that a new book from Dr Karan Singh “A Treasury of Indian Wisdom” is about to be launched. I first read Dr Singh when a poem by him was published in the in house magazine of The Oberoi Group called Soma (does it still get published) and then, as time passed, became a great fan of his more for his range of knowledge. The man who can write a book on Vedanta can also talk to you with authority on the dynamics of rock music, specially Floyd!! Any one interested in a closer view of the Kashmir problem can read his correspondence with Jawaharlal Nehru, also at You could go directly to:

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