It is important to note that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is not inherently a “gay law”. It criminalizes sex that is “against the order of nature” between consenting adults: sex that is not, at least potentially, reproductive. So consensual anal and oral sex — together with a variety of other sexual acts that have accreted in annotations to the law over the years (and are lushly depicted on the walls of many an ancient Indian temple) — between heterosexual as well as homosexual individuals becomes criminal behaviour under this law. Its origins are in the twisted joylessness of Victorian prudery, which pushed back the spiritually enlightened unsqueamishness of Indian sexual mores by several centuries. It is, however, true that cruel, corrupt and abusive keepers of the law — usually the police — often use this particular law to brutalize and blackmail men having any kind of sex with men in situations of terrifying powerlessness for the latter. And with the new lease of life that this law has been given by the judiciary, its actual and symbolic power to persecute vulnerability is being used with renewed aplomb — within the family, for instance, to suppress a young man or woman trying to come to terms with his or her sexuality.
So, for many principled reasons, and at many levels of political engagement, the drive to remove Section 377 from the IPC and thus decriminalize what is effectively a whole range of sexual practices and identities, is something that every Indian citizen committed to democracy — and within democracy, to the sanctity of human rights — must stand up for clearheadedly. If the courts, including the highest, have refrained from doing so, possibly for the sake of correcting their reputation for judicial activism, then the other institutions of the modern Indian State — especially Parliament — must get their acts together, rise above partisan interests and electoral insecurities, think boldly, rationally and humanely through their own prejudices, evasions and confusions, and prove to themselves, to millions of concerned citizens and to the rest of the world that Left, Right and Centre could come together on urgent and universal questions of human dignity, equality and privacy. Messrs Gandhi, Modi, Kejriwal and other aspiring (or veteran) leaders of the nation must realize that to do anything less would, in fact, be going against the order of nature.