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Congress and LGBT rights

Congress and LGBT rights
If the Congress party is afraid of taking steps to legalise gay sex, why did its president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi criticise so vociferously the Supreme Court ruling criminalising homosexuality? Even law Minister Kapil Sibal had been on the same page with the party leadership on the judgement day. Isn’t home minister and senior Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde’s ‘no’ to promulgation of ordinance to approve same sex relationship is a betrayal of the sentiment expressed by his party supremo? What made the party do a sudden somersault of its earlier position? It seems the Congress top brass have now gotten isolated on the gay sex legalisation issue under pressure from other senior members who fear another election backlash from the public if the party supports unnatural sex at this stage and move an ordinance or bill in Parliament. Other political parties refrained from denouncing the apex court order while BJP openly supported it.

When court questions government action or inaction, political executives call it judicial activism. Conversely, when it comes to repealing a controversial portion of even an archaic act having implication on vote bank, political executives would like judiciary to do the job instead of government.  Logically, a piece of act as controversial as the section 377 in the chapter xvi of the Indian Penal Code, which has been allowed to stay untouched for 152 years by governments, political executives, lawmakers and the founders of Indian Constitution, should be and must be struck down only by Parliament and not judiciary. The Supreme Court of India, the ultimate protector of the Constitution, did exactly that when it ruled gay sex illegal under the existing IPC section and asked the government to change the provision by enacting a law that comprehensively deals with the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) relationships. In doing so, the apex court had struck down an earlier Delhi High Court order, totally junking the section 377 of IPC.

The Supreme Court has understandably upset the proponents of gay sex and marriage which are increasingly attracting attention of governments, political parties, religious groups and conservative as well as liberal sections of the society across the world. The gay movement is getting stronger by the day as increasing numbers of global celebrities have been championing the cause, some of them openly confirming their homosexual relationship, demanding life of dignity and non-discrimination and societal and legal recognition to stop harassment of ordinary LGBT couples.

At least 16 countries, including four from the third world such as Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay, have legalised same-sex marriage. However, gay sex is still illegal in most parts of the world, including the whole of Asia, Russia and parts of the USA. The British government, which authored the sec. 377 of IPC in1861, will legalise same sex marriage in England and Wales, from next year. Conservative Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has outright rejected legal authorisation of LGBT relations. The People’s Republic of China is strongly against homosexuality as its communist leadership considers the act as anti-culture and against social tradition.

Indian society too generally disapproves same sex marriage as against its culture and tradition. It has been unacceptable across religions, including Hindu, Islam, Buddist, Christian and Jain. And, this is the crux of the problem and why major political parties have so far taken a non-committal attitude towards gay right. However, the massive public and media reactions against the Supreme Court judgement have made them sit up and rethink on the subject. They would have probably been the happiest if the Supreme Court upheld the 2009 Delhi High Court verdict and annulled the section 377 that would have saved political parties ahead of the crucial Parliamentary election from any possible backlash from the conservative sections of the society which far outnumber the proponents of gay sex. No major regional party seems to be willing to take a lead in initiating a bill in Parliament to legalise LGBT relationship. Although the Congress leadership has been quite vocal against the Supreme Court ruling ostensibly to improve its image as modern thinking and pro-oppressed, its on-field action by way of introducing a bill in Parliament to allow same sex relationship alone can prove its intention and political honesty.

What surprised other political party leaders is the sudden outburst by the Congress brigade, led by president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi, against the Supreme Court judgement. Some say the Congress reaction was meant more to belittle the apex judiciary’s intellectual ability and honesty to take a realistic view on social injustice and inequality than for the political merit of the case. The apex court has been a cause of constant pain and embarrassment for the ruling Congress party. Congress may not be really serious about legalising gay sex. The party’s initial support for equal gay right may have been just a political ploy to get closer to modern young mind, which singularly contributed to its near annihilation in the recent Delhi state election? The party has been in power at a stretch for nearly last 10 years. It also had a 30-year-long uninterrupted reign in the government until 1977 election. Altogether, it has almost single-handedly ruled the country for 50 years. Nothing prevented the party from enacting a law to legalise homosexuality. Many feel that the party which is primarily responsible for perpetuating and enhancing all kinds of social discrimination among people on the grounds of caste, religion, tribes, community and gender, mainly for electoral gains, has no moral right to emerge as a crusader of gay sex.

IPA
Nantoo Banerjee

Nantoo Banerjee

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