Vijay Hiremath is a Mumbai-based lawyer, working on human rights issues.
Fri Dec 13 2013, 00:23 hrs
The 377 judgment is not about gay sex alone. It bans ‘unnatural’ sexual acts, irrespective of gender, age or consent.
The judgment in Suresh Kumar Kaushal vs Naz Foundation (Kaushal) does not only criminalise “gay sex”, as has been widely reported. Undeniably, the judgment ignores the constitutional rights of millions of LGBT Indian citizens (as opposed to what Justice Singhvi calls the minuscule LGBT community and their “so-called rights”). However, Kaushal criminalises certain sexual acts performed by same- and opposite-sex couples that can be classified as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.
What are these acts, we may ask? According to the court, “the acts which fall within the ambit of the section can only be determined with reference to the act itself and the circumstances in which it is executed”. The court then refers to a series of cases that involved the commission of these criminal acts. These include cases like R vs Jacobs (1917), which deals with the commission of sodomy, and Khanu vs Emperor (1934), which deals with carnal intercourse with a bullock. Further, the judgment refers to a series of cases that relate to anal sex being performed on young boys in Lohana vs the State (1968), Fazal Rab Choudhary vs State of Bihar (1982) and Kedar Nath vs State of Rajasthan (1985). Finally, the court referred to Calvin Francis vs Orissa (1992), which involved forcing a six-year-old child to perform oral sex.
Justice Singhvi relies on these cases to conclude that the acts that fall within the ambit of Section 377 “can be determined with reference to the act itself and the circumstances in which it is executed”. The judges rightly reason that these cases all deal with non-consensual and coercive situations. They observe that they “were apprehensive whether the court would rule similarly in a case of proved consensual intercourse between adults.” However, they use this alleged apprehension to conclude that it is difficult to prepare a list of acts covered by the section. Strange, given that the precedent points to coercive sex involving children or animals as being the problem, and not simply acts of anal or oral sex.
However, it is not this flawed reasoning that is the biggest problem in Kaushal. It is the next step that confounds. Despite accepting that the cases pertain to coercive sex, the judge finds that Section 377 will apply irrespective of age and consent. He goes on to say that the section itself does not criminalise “a particular people or identity or orientation. It merely identifies certain acts which if committed would constitute an offence. Such a prohibition regulates sexual conduct regardless of gender identity and orientation”.
Kaushal has further missteps. The first pertains to non-consideration of substantial and significant contentions made. Justice Singhvi writes that the respondents did not furnish particulars of harassment and assault of sexual minorities by public authorities. This is a shocking lapse by the judge, since affidavits were filed by a transgendered person, and a gay man from Delhi — both of whom were gangraped by the police. These affidavits were read in a sombre courtroom by senior counsel Ashok Desai. In addition, a reported judgment, Jayalakshmi vs State (2007), which dealt with the rape of a transgendered man by the police, was also part of the record. The Madras High Court found that this was rape by the police, awarded compensation of Rs 5 lakh and directed disciplinary action. Reports from civil society actors that spoke to the harassment that gay and lesbian Indians faced were also filed.
The interveners also filed compelling affidavits of parents of LGBT children that spoke of the stigma and discrimination their children faced in daily life. Justice Singhvi either neglected to consider the evidence by way of affidavits that were adduced, or ignored them altogether. Such non-consideration is a manifest error.
Then there is the judge’s jurisprudential inconsistency. He writes that the court must exercise self-restraint in judicial review and that there should be a presumption of constitutionality of legislation. The judge is right in citing these as general principles. Yet, this has never been a barrier to finding unconstitutional that which violates the protections afforded by our Constitution. This same judge in Delhi Jal Board vs National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers & Others, in 2011, declared that “whenever the judiciary has issued directions for ensuring that the right to equality, life and liberty no longer remains illusory… a theoretical debate is started by raising the bogey of judicial activism or judicial overreach”. In this case, Justice Singhvi upheld the Delhi High Court’s orders providing free medical treatment, compensation for occupational illnesses, provision of modern equipment, soap and oil, restrooms, canteens and ex-gratia payments for deaths.
This judgment has other jurisprudential flaws, like a lack of discussion of the violation of the rights to expression, life, liberty and dignity. Its analysis of the violation of equality rights reflects a poor understanding of the case law. It fails to engage any of the contentions made by the respondents and the interveners.
Perhaps the Kaushal bench would have done well to remember Jawaharlal Nehru’s words of warning. In September 1949, speaking in the Constituent Assembly, Nehru said that “unless and until the courts are empowered and the courts are the final arbiters of the civil rights and liberties of the people, I feel that if the legislatures alone are given the power we are coming to a point where fiats of executive officers will deny us our rights and this is very wrong”.
By criminalising consensual sexual acts of adults in private (which the Delhi High Court read out of the purview of Section 377), the Kaushal bench did worse than what Nehru imagined. Instead of protecting the rights of consenting adults, it chose to negate the decision of the executive of not contesting the high court’s judgment. The executive stated that it saw no legal error in the decision and hence found no reason to appeal against it. The attorney general categorically told the court that his instructions were that the government has accepted the decision of the high court. Strangely, the judgment ascribes to the attorney general the role of amicus. This is blatantly wrong.
The final problem with Kaushal is that it is an exception to the jurisprudence of the SC. From the banning of bonded labour in Bandhua Mukti Morcha vs Union of India, to ensuring the right to healthcare for suffering asbestos workers in CERC vs Union, to crafting guidelines pertaining to arrest, custody and interrogation of the accused in D.K. Basu vs State of West Bengal, the apex court has always expanded rights and protected the historically disadvantaged and socially vulnerable. Kaushal, by belittling the “so-called rights of LGBT persons”, is the exception to this jurisprudential trajectory.
But before Suresh Kumar Kaushal and his compatriots — the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Trust God Missionaries, Krantikari Manuwadi Morcha and others — rejoice, they should be aware that this judgment criminalises certain prospective acts of their members as well. It criminalises all of us. It diminishes the constitutional promises of equality, dignity and fraternity for and by all Indians.
The writer practices law at the Supreme Court of India. She represented filmmaker Shyam Benegal, an intervener, in this case.
SANGHARASH JAARI HAI -No going Back!
When : Sunday, 15th December. 2013. 3pm onwards
The Protest gathering against IPC 377 will be formally at Maheshwari Udyan Park, Matunga on Sunday, 15th December @ 3PM to 6PM.
1. Spread the word.
2. Get everyone you know
3. Wear Black
4. Or Black Ribbon
5. Bring candles
6. Bring banners//posters//placards
7. Wear mask if need be
8. Art accessories for poster making will be provided at the venue. Limited supplies though.
9. Black ribbon & candles will be provided at the venue. Limited supplies though.
10. Click pictures on your way to the venue, and post them across social media platforms.
11. Display your banner & placards in trains, buss, or prominent spaces on your way to the venue.
12. We need speakers to address the crowd, in many languages as possible. (Topics of discussion I have mentioned in the 12th Dec meeting minutes)
Time is set people, lets show them minority might
Thursday, Dec 12, 2013, 13:30 IST | Place: Washington, DC | Agency: IANS
A top American LGBT organisation with a membership of more than a million, described the Supreme Court’s decision as “a sad day for India and for the world”.
Expressing concern over the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling restoring the ban on gay sex, the US has expressed its opposition to “any action that criminalises consensual same-sex conduct between adults”.
“The United States places great importance on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people and that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons around the world,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday.
Noting that Secretary of State John Kerry had made a reference to LGBT persons in his statement on human rights day, she said: “We oppose any action that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between adults.”
“LGBT rights are human rights,” Psaki said. “That’s something you’ve heard Secretary Kerry say, I believe Secretary (Hillary) Clinton say before him, and we call on all governments to advance equality for LGBT individuals around the world.”
Asked if the US was planning to reach out to the Indian government to convey its views on the issue, she said: “We are in regular touch about these issues and others with India.”
On its expectations of steps from the Indian Government or whether the US would encourage India to repeal the law, the spokesperson said: “That’s a decision that the Indian government would make.”
“We obviously don’t make decisions on behalf of other governments and their legislation. So I expressed our deep concern about any efforts around the world to not recognize that LGBT rights are human rights, and that’s a message we’ll continue to convey.”
The spokesperson was not sure whether the issue was discussed with the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, but sources said Senator Mark Warner, Co-Chair of the Senate India Caucus, did refer to it during a meeting with her Wednesday.
Meanwhile, All Out, a top American LGBT organisation with a membership of more than a million, described the Supreme Court’s decision as “a sad day for India and for the world”.
“No one should have to go to jail because of who they are or who they love. We stand in solidarity with India’s human rights community,” said Joe Mirabella, director of communications.
“Today’s ruling is a setback,” said Sapna Pandya, president of the Washington based Khush DC, an organisation of South Asian gay community.
“But it doesn’t take away from the fact that the recent past has seen promise for LGBTQ rights in not just India, but also other South Asian countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal,” she said.
“We stand in solidarity with the brave activists in South Asia and worldwide who have taken such huge leaps in recent years and know they will continue the fight for equality in spite of the disappointment we all feel today,” Pandya said.
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court, while re-criminalizing gay sex by upholding the constitutional validity of Section 377 of IPC, unsuccessfully searched for a “uniform test” to classify acts as ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ which attracts a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya scanned through judgments from 1925 till date and failed to find any uniform norm to classify what constituted the core of Section 377.
It noticed that in all these cases, there was absence of ‘consent’ and the sexual act was forced on the victim. “In our opinion, the acts which fall within the ambit of the section can only be determined with reference to the act itself and the circumstances in which it is executed,” the bench said.
“All the aforementioned cases refer to non-consensual and markedly coercive situations and the keenness of the court in bringing justice to the victims who were either women or children cannot be discounted while analyzing the manner in which the section has been interpreted. We are apprehensive of whether the court would rule similarly in a case of proved consensual intercourse between adults. Hence, it is difficult to prepare a list of acts which would be covered by the section,” it said.
In the case ‘Govindarajula In re. (1886) 1 Weir 382’, the court had held that “inserting penis in the mouth would not amount to an offence under Section 377”. The same view was reiterated in detail in Khanu vs Emperor (AIR 1925 Sind 286).
In a 1934 case, the Lahore high court in Khanu vs Emperor had held that “carnal intercourse with a bullock through nose is an unnatural offence punishable under Section 377 of Indian Penal Code”.
The apex court also cited a case dealt by Gujarat High Court in 1968, where two men first unsuccessfully attempted to sodomize a boy and then forced him to perform oral sex and ejaculated in the boy’s mouth.
The Gujarat HC had said, “It is true that the theory that sexual intercourse is only meant for the purpose of conception is an outdated theory. But at the same time, it could be said without any hesitation of contradiction that the orifice of mouth is not, according to nature, meant for sexual or carnal intercourse. Viewing from that aspect, it could be said that this act of putting a male-organ in the mouth of a victim for the purposes of satisfying sexual appetite would be an act of carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”
In 1969, the Kerala high court in the case ‘State of Kerala vs Kundumkara’ had ruled that “committing intercourse between the thighs of another is carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and the act fell within the ambit of Section 377.
In the 1992 judgment of the Orissa high court in the case ‘Calvin Francis vs Orissa’, the man was found to have inserted his genital into the mouth of a six-year-old girl. The HC had ruled that the “act complained of was punishable under Section 377”.
Dhananjay Mahapatra,TNN | Dec 12, 2013, 02.15 AM IST