Section 377: Five Years On, What Has Changed For The LGBTQIA+ Community

Section 377: Five Years On, What Has Changed For The LGBTQIA+ Community

It has been five years since Section 377 was partially revoked in 2018

Anjali KochharUpdated: Sunday, September 10, 2023, 11:32 AM IST
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It’s been five years since the five-member panel, in a partial ruling, invalidated a portion of Section 377 within the Indian Penal Code, effectively removing the criminalisation of same-sex relationships among consenting adults. This permits LGBTQIA+ individuals to engage in consensual sexual activity without breaking the law. The Court, however, has maintained the sections of Section 377 that criminalise non-consensual acts and sexual acts involving animals.
To give you a little background, Section 377 of the IPC categorised consensual sexual intercourse between same-sex people as an “unnatural offence” which is “against the order of nature”. It prescribed a punishment of 10 years imprisonment. On September 6, 2018, it was partially struck down. It’s been five years since then and things have been smooth as well as had challenges.  

Acceptance

These five years have changed how people perceive the LGBTQIA+ community in a lot of ways. We see pride parades, pride events, drag queen celebrations, and LGBTQIA+ parties getting attention more than ever now. There was a recent celebration at Kitty Su, Mumbai on the five years of dilution of 377 where Sushant Divgikr, also known by drag name Rani Kohenur took the lead with many other drag performers. They were all loud and clear in their message — ‘We are happy with the acceptance and we have more freedom than ever.’  
It is also noticeable that people from diverse backgrounds have increasingly embraced greater openness and acceptance toward their LGBTQIA+ family members, friends, and coworkers, fostering a more inclusive and empathetic atmosphere. So, things have changed, in this respect. Advocate Vapika Malik said, “Well, Absolutely! Society has been more accepting of same-sex relations. I see clients who are parents of LGBTQIA+
individuals and I see the pride in their eyes, which makes me feel that truly things are changing.”

Positive representation

Whether it is in books or OTT shows and movies, there has been a remarkable difference when it comes to the representation of the LGBTQIA+ community. Earlier they were portrayed as a laughing stock in the movies. Now, some movies portray them just as regularly as they can. Of course, there are now talks about their feelings, movie concepts that just showcase how they feel in different situations and so on.

Filmmakers and studios have recognised the need to portray LGBTQIA+ characters and stories authentically and respectfully. This representation helps raise awareness, promotes understanding, and provides visibility to LGBTQIA+ individuals and their experiences.

Movies like Love, Simon, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha to Aisa Laga, and Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, are some examples that perfectly capture the message. In fact, in books, the representation of LGBTQIA+ has changed. Manav Kaul’s new book, Tuti Hui Bikhri Hui, talks about a lesbian relationship and there are many recent examples of the same.

Legal changes

Advocate Dhruv Gupta, practising in Delhi High Court, rightfully said, “Section 377 has not been scrapped totally, only diluted to take out consensual sex between adults. Non-consensual acts are still an offence under section 377 IPC.”

In terms of legal developments, he mentioned that recently Delhi HC clarified that offence under section 377 IPC would not just be penile-anal penetration but also digital penetration (finger, toes into anal) or any foreign object penetration into anal.

Similarly, he cited the example of Punjab HC which also clarified that penile penetration into thighs or other body parts was manoeuvred to make it feel like vaginal penetration was also covered under Section 377 IPC. There have been many such judgements since then and changes are continuously getting done.

Challenges exist

However, the fact that things are still moving slowly cannot be denied. There hasn’t been complete acceptance yet and we might have to wait for years to reach that point. LGBTQIA+ community still faces many mental health issues because of the identity crises they face in the country.
Advocate Ishanee Sharma, managing partner at Ishanee Sharma Law Offices, said, “Five years ago, the dilution of Section 377 was just the beginning of the end of years of prejudice. The pace of progress since 2018 has been slow yet steady. The community is still embroiled in an ongoing struggle for social and civil acceptance. But we will surely see a more equal and accepting society in the years to come. The unanimous decision marked a significant milestone in the country’s legal landscape, as it not only recognised the rights and dignity of LGBTQIA+ individuals but also underscored the importance of equality before the law for all citizens.”

Well, things are slow however moving in the country and it calls for appreciation of the fact that we have reached somewhere in the past five years. What do you think?

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