Health Minister Ramadoss backs scrapping of Section 377 - IPC

Gay and homosexual rights activists have found a supporter in health minister Anbumani Ramadoss. He is going to push for radical changes in the Indian law that are discriminatory and lead to harassment of people with alternative sexual preferences.According to Ramadoss, the “discriminatory” law — section 377 of the Indian Penal Code — needs to be repealed. Speaking at the international conference on Aids in Mexico City, Ramadoss said: “Structural discrimination against those who are vulnerable to HIV such as sex workers and men having sex with men (MSM) must be removed if our prevention, care and treatment programs are to succeed. Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalises men who have sex with men, must go.” Section 377 criminalises any penetrative sex that does not lead to reproduction, thereby criminalising sexual expression by homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals. According to civil rights activists, even though this section does not lead often to filing of court cases against sexuality minorities, it becomes a powerful weapon in the hands of police and rowdies to harass, abuse, extort and torture sexual minorities routinely. There is a strong demand to remove such discriminatory sections in the law and even the Law Commission of India in its 172nd report (on reviewing rape laws) has recommended the repeal of IPC 377. A petition challenging arrests under the act is pending in the Delhi high court. Terming the matter to be “serious”, the court had earlier asked the government to sort out the matter at the earliest. Despite recommendations by the health ministry and the Law Commission, the home ministry, the main custodian of the law, is not in favour of changing the law. The home ministry argues that since homosexuality was not accepted by Indian society, it is not possible to legalise it, an argument that has outraged not only the homosexual community but many who believe the state should keep out of the bedroom. According to the home ministry, Indian society is “intolerant” towards homosexuality and repealing the law would “open the floodgates of delinquent behaviour”. It says that this was the only law against child abuse and male rape.In his speech at the global Aids summit, Ramadoss said: “Structural discrimination against those who are vulnerable to HIV such as sex workers and men having sex with men must be removed if our prevention, care and treatment programmes are to succeed. The key to overcoming the HIV epidemic is to take HIV services to those on the margins of society and we can only do that in an enabling environment.”The health ministry is also bringing a law to stop discrimination against HIV patients. India has about 2.5 million HIV infections and many states have started recording a stabilisation of the epidemic. However, hotspots of HIV infection are emerging in northern India, particularly in the rural interiors, which are home to thousands of migrants who work outside their states in India’s economic hubs like Mumbai and Surat.
The law Section 377-IPC (Unnatural offences): 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 term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section. Voluntary sex against the order of nature is punishable with imprisonment for life or up to 10 years.

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