83% psychiatrists want homosexuality decriminalised, survey reveals

Survey was conducted among members of the Indian Psychiatric Society, whose departing president called homosexuality "unnatural" this week.

Controversial psychiatrist Dr Indira Sharma may have described homosexuality as unnatural at a meeting of the Indian Psychiatric Society this week, but 83% of her fellow professionals believe that India needs to decriminalise it, a survey reveals.

The one-question survey was conducted by the Samapathik Trust, an organisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, at the annual conference of the Indian Psychiatric Society held in Pune between January 17 and 19.

Of the 262 psychiatrists who chose to answer the printed survey, 83.5% agreed that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code should be altered to allow private, consensual intercourse between adults, irrespective of their sexual orientation, biological sex or gender identity. Only 12.2% of the respondents said that section 377, which criminalises sexual activities that are “against the order of nature”, including homosexual acts, should not be abolished.

The section was read down by the Delhi High Court in 2009 but the Supreme Court reversed the Delhi verdict in December 2013. LGBT rights groups have filed for a review petition.

“While the majority of those surveyed responded in favour of accepting homosexuality, we are concerned about the fact that only 15% of the psychiatrists we approached chose to participate in the survey,” said Bindumadhav Khire, president of the Samapathik Trust.

While the Trust began its survey on the first day of the conference, the Indian Psychiatric Society has been in the spotlight since January 20, after its Dr Indira Sharma, in her address to the group as the Society’s departing president, stated that homosexuality is “unnatural” and that those uncomfortable with their orientation could seek psychiatric help.

In the light of Sharma’s statements, Khire believes it is important for the Indian Psychiatric Society to state its official position on homosexuality. “It is the country’s largest association of psychiatrists and its views will be important when Section 377 is reviewed” by the Supreme Court, he said.

While the IPS has distanced itself from Sharma’s stance, it is yet to formally state its position on homosexuality. However, Dr Koushik Dutta, moderator of the Society’s e-group, told Scroll that the IPS has already prepared a draft statement that is now being discussed among its members.

“I can assure you that the members have unanimously agreed that homosexuality is normal and natural, but we are yet to decide whether, as a professional body, we can give our opinions on its legality,” said Dutta.

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