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Indian gays demand British apology for sex law

Jamie Skey August 18, 2008

KOLKATA, INDIA: Indian members of the Integration Society, an organization committed to the defence of human rights and sexual freedom, apply make-up as they take part in a march entitled "Walk on the Rainbow" in Kolkata, 26 June 2005 to commemorate the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, said to be the birth of the Gay Liberation Movement. Some hundred members took part in the march even as homosexuality in India stands criminalized because of a mid 19th century colonial law, as the section 377 of the Indian Penal Code enacted by the British in 1860 criminalizes what it calls, "sexual offences against the order of nature". AFP PHOTO/DESHAKALYAN chowdhury (Photo credit should read DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of gay activists gathered in a park in Mumbai on Saturday to call on the British Government to apologise for introducing anti-sodomy laws that still make homosexuality illegal in India today.

The protests came from the same park where Mahatma Gandhi ordered the British to leave India sixty-six years ago.

The call was during the first gay pride march in Mumbai for three years and is part of a wider campaign to abolish Section 377 of the Indian penal code which outlaws “unnatural sexual offences” and theoretically punishes anal or oral sex with up to 10 years in prison.

In practice no one has been prosecuted under the law in the past two decades, but it has been used by officials to counter the work of HIV activists in some Indian states.

Gay-rights campaigners also argue that because Section 377 enshrines homophobia in India’s legal systems it also legitimises the continued repression of gay men and women in wider Indian society.

A draft copy of the statement seen by The Independent accuses Britain of exporting homophobia during the 19th century when colonial administrators began enforcing Victorian laws and morals on their Indian subjects.

It reads: “We call on the British Government to apologise for the immense suffering that has resulted from their imposition of Section 377.

“And we call on the Indian government to abandon this abhorrent alien legacy of the Raj that should have left our shores when the British did.”

Gay-rights activists argue that Hindu, Buddhist and early Muslim cultures on the subcontinent had a long history of tolerance towards same-sex relationships.

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