Dr Purna Sen, former Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat and chair of the Kaleidoscope Trust, has condemned yesterday’s decision by India’s supreme court to uphold colonial-era laws that ban gay sex.

The court decided to overturn a 2009 ruling by a lower court in Delhi that had decriminalised gay sex.

The decision was made on World Human Rights Day and makes India the 42nd Commonwealth nation to make same-sex activity illegal. 

Dr Sen said: “The Supreme Court’s ruling is a terrible setback for the struggle to secure equal rights for LGBT people, not just in India, but in many of the Commonwealth countries that still enforce colonial era restrictions on the liberties of LGBT people.”

Dr Sen, who was born in India and now works at the LSE in London, added: “The 2009 ruling that read the ban on same-sex relationships as being at odds with the Constitution acted as a real beacon for hope in the Commonwealth.”

“Today’s ruling, sadly, is a setback for India and sets a worrying precedent.”

The Supreme Court took the view that a section of the Indian penal code dating back to the nineteenth century that outlawed sexual acts ‘against the order of nature’ took precedence over the right to equality.

Speaking to PinkNews.co.uk, Dr Sen said that there has been no political leadership concerning Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Last February, Supreme Court judges hearing the case for reintroducing a ban on gay sex in India have warned the government for making contradictory statements about homosexuality.

It is now the Indian Parliament’s prerogative to legislate on this issue, according to Justice GS Singhvi, the head of the Supreme Court bench.

When asked about what the Parliament will do in light of this ruling, Dr Sen mentioned that “with next year’s election, politicians will be very mindful of alienating the electorate.”

“They may forgo lending their voices to an issue which is not seen as popular,” Dr Sen suggested.

Sex ‘against the order of nature’ has been widely interpreted in India to mean gay sex and can be punished with up to 10 years in jail.

Dr Sen told PinkNews.com that “when the Delhi High Court made its announcement in 2009, we all got excited and thought gay sex had been decriminalised. Also, many believed that it was a fantastic judgement which interpreted the provisions of the Indian constitution”.

She conceded that “the constitutional promise of decriminalisation is a massive fight to be fought”.

“We need to not lose heart but to keep mobilising and keep fighting”.

Dr Sen recently chaired the Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi’s key note speech on LGBT rights as part of yesterday’s World Human Rights Day.