LGBT rights

At Delhi Pride march, Jaitley's support for gay rights draws both bouquets and brickbats

Some participants say that the finance minister's personal views will not change the hostility many of his Bharatiya Janata Party colleagues have expressed towards legalising homosexuality.

A day after finance minister Arun Jaitley and his Congress predecessor P Chidambaram claimed that the Supreme Court should reconsider its 2013 decision to criminalise gay sex, Delhi's queer community on Sunday showed up for the city's annual Pride March with strong views about their statements.

Speaking at the Times LitFest in Delhi on November 28, Jaitley said that the court's view on homosexuality was not in sync with laws in many other parts of the world. Chidambaram, who was also at the event, spoke up in favour of the 2009 Delhi High Court judgement decriminalising Section 377, the provision of the Indian Penal Code that made any kind of "unnatural sex" a punishable offence. In 2013, the Supreme Court reversed the High Court judgement.

Among participants at the Delhi Pride March on Sunday afternoon, Jaitley's views received both praise and criticism. Some made it clear that the finance minister's personal views did not change their attitude towards the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has not been supportive of gay rights so far.


It didn't help when BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, in an obvious attempt to counter Jaitley's statements, tweeted against legalising homosexuality on Sunday, calling it a "genetic flaw" that is curable through "stem cell medical advance":


But others, like music composer Vishal Dadlani and gay rights activist Harish Iyer, took a more balanced view of Jaitley's statements:

"Even if his whole party is against homosexuality, this one person's view must be celebrated, because it takes a lot of courage to be a voice of dissent, and as homosexuals we should know that," said Iyer, who travelled from Mumbai to Delhi to attend the Pride March. "Jaitley has also expressed this opinion in an interview after the elections last year."

Passing the baton

Many members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, however, are more concerned about Jaitley's claim that the Supreme Court should review its 2013 verdict on Section 377. While reversing the 2009 Delhi High Court judgement, the apex court had specified that technically, Section 377 is constitutionally valid and that decriminalising gay sex was a job for the legislature and not the judiciary.

"The court had passed the baton to the government and now Jaitley is passing it back to the court," said Manak Matiyani, a member of the organising committee of the Delhi Pride March. "These are nothing but delaying tactics."

After the Supreme Court verdict, both Jaitley and Chidambaram have been in a position to initiate a change as ministers and members of Parliament. "Even if their parties were not supportive, they could have introduced a private members bill to propose the legalisation of homosexuality," said Nitin Karani, a gay rights activist from Mumbai. "So far, there has been only talk and no action."

On Twitter, too, people raised the same questions:

Despite the scepticism, Jaitley's position as the finance minister and a BJP leader close to prime minister Narendra Modi has sparked some hope in the LGBT community.

"I think the next step for us should be to pressurise the government no just to repeal Section 377 but also introduce anti-discriminatory laws for caste, gender and other issues," said Matiyani.

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