LGBT History Month Poster: The Indian Penal Code (Section 377)

An LGBT activist dances during the celebration after the Supreme Court verdict which decriminalizes consensual gay sex on September 06, 2018 in Calcutta, India. Photo attrib. Saikat Paul, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

On 6th September 2018, the Supreme Court in New Delhi pronounced a landmark verdict decriminalising consensual gay sex in India. The ruling concerned Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, legislation first drafted in the colonial era which still criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature.’  Five Supreme Court judges declared that the law as it applied to consenting adults was unconstitutional, marking the end of a tortuous legal campaign by LGBT activists dating back to the 1990s. 

Supporters of anti-gay legislation in India argue that it protects traditional culture from ‘Western’ influences. However, many historians refute this, drawing attention to the ‘queerness’ of pre-colonial India and viewing Section 377 as an attempt by the British Raj to impose Victorian values on its colonial subjects.  Although Section 377 no longer applies to homosexuality in a legal sense, it may be argued that the attitudes that informed it persist and this question, amongst others, continues to fuel debate amongst historians about the impact of colonial rule. 

Sources: 

Section 377 – Supreme Court of India – WP(C) NO. 76 OF 2016 Judgement 06-Sep-2018, https://www.sci.gov.in, accessed 24thJanuary 2018.

Vanita, Ruth (ed.), Queering India. Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society (Abingdon, Oxon; Routledge, 2002).

Further reading:

Arondekar, Anjali, For the record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India (Durham: Duke University Press).

Ballhatchet, Kenneth, Race, Sex and Class Under the Raj (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980).

Chatterjee, Partha, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993).

Menon, Nivedita, Sexualities (New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2007).

Sinha, Mrinalini, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly Englishman’ and the ‘Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University, 1995).

Vanita, Ruth and Saleem Kidwai, Same Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New Delhi: Macmillan, 2000).

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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