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Indians protest ban on gay relationships

Monday 24 Feb 2014 11:22 a.m.

India's gay community is protesting against a law that criminalises homosexual acts.

Violation of the law, which was reinstated by the Supreme Court, carries the threat of life in prison.

Activists say they are protesting against a 19th century British law that has remained unchanged in 21st century India.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises "unnatural sex against the order of nature". If violated, it carries a sentence of 10 years imprisonment or even life.

"It's molestation of our own dignity, it's a rape of my existence, it's demoralising of me being an Indian, it's uprooting me from my own lifestyle and own self," says activist Laxmi Narayan.

The law was successfully challenged in the Delhi High Court, which decriminalised homosexual relationships in 2009.

But this was challenged again in the Supreme Court of India, which overturned the High Court's judgment and upheld the ban.

The Supreme Court's decision has been criticised by the country's ruling Congress party. President Sonia Gandhi called on MPs "to address this issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India."

But commentators say it is unlikely the government will introduce legislation overturning the Supreme Court's decision in a country still largely conservative, and which goes to the polls in May.

Those campaigning against homosexuality say they will do everything they can to defend Indian culture and traditions.

"Let them do whatever, but in their homes," says Champak Rai, general secretary of right-wing group Vishwa Hindu Parishad. "But if they do it in public, we will beat them up. After all, alcohol and smoking is banned in public. There are limitations to fundamental rights."

The Supreme Court's judgment has brought the otherwise-reluctant community out to voice their concerns. But they know it is going to be a long, drawn-out battle.

Sky News/3 News

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