Brought into power in 1861, while the country was still under British rule, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code effectively criminalised consensual intercourse between people of the same sex.
Modelled on the UK Buggery Act 1533, the law criminalised ‘unnatural offences’, and remained in place along with a slew of Victorian statutes after India’s independence in 1947. The act states that ‘whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.’
The phrase ‘against the order of nature’ has been interpreted to mean any non-‘natural’ sexual acts. This technically includes oral and anal sex, as well as homosexual sexual encounters, although the law has historically been used primarily to criminalise same-sex relations.
By scrapping this law, India has taken a major step towards legal equality for LGBT people in the country. As a major economic force in the region (and globally), the impact of this cannot be ignored – it may pave the way for other nations to follow suit – and may eventually lead to greater acceptance of LGBT people in South Asia.