On 2 February 2016, the Supreme Court of India referred a batch of eight curative petitions against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to a constitutional bench of five judges. The law, dating back to colonial times, criminalises sexual acts considered to be “against the order of nature,” including homosexuality.
India has seen much popular debate over the issue especially after the Naz Foundation (India) Trust (a Delhi based non-governmental organisation that works on HIV/AIDS and sexual health) filed a case in the Delhi High Court in 2001 to strike down Section 377. The high court finally passed a judgment to decriminalise homosexuality in 2009, but the Supreme Court decided to reverse the decision in 2013, claiming that changing the law was the prerogative of the parliament and not the judiciary.
On 4 February 2016, Ishan Marvel, a reporter at The Caravan, spoke to Anjali Gopalan, the founder and executive director of the Naz Foundation over the phone. Gopalan discussed the journey of the Naz Foundation over the years,and the problems concerning the LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights in India.
Ishan Marvel: Could you tell us about the Naz foundation, and how the petition against Section 377 has proceeded over the years?
Anjali Gopalan: We set up in 1994, and started our work in the context of HIV/AIDS prevention. One of the groups that we began working with was the men who have sex with men (MSM) community. We found that many of these men were married, or wanted to get married, because at that time, there were no role models—absolutely no one to talk about homosexuality, everything was hidden. So, we realised it was very important to start working beyond the gay community. And since one of the major routes of transmission of HIV is sex, we felt it was critical to start working on issues of sexuality.