US and UK media: India gay sex ban 'disgraceful'

An Indian gay-rights protester has "love is not a crime" written on her face.
Image caption The Indian Supreme Court decided that gay sex is once again a crime

The Indian Supreme Court's decision to reverse a lower court decision striking down a British colonial-era law criminalising homosexual acts was quickly condemned by much of the Indian press. Now, the US and British press are taking their shots.

"For the world's largest democracy, this is a huge failure," writes Swati Sharma in the Washington Post. "After India's once-hailed and extraordinary rise as a global and economic force, this one decision proves to be a major setback, and one that may be difficult to recover from. If there are major global movements to boycott Russia over its gay rights, what will happen with India?"

The New York Times' editors called the decision "disgraceful". Although the Indian court contended that it was the legislature's responsibility to repeal the law, they argued that this was "disingenuous".

"Given the fractious nature of India's Parliament, the conservative views of many of its members, and the political stakes in the run-up to general elections next spring," they wrote, "the legislature is unlikely to take up this issue on its own.

The Independent's Ritwik Deo writes that it is ironic that the conservative factions of Indian society are rallying around a 153-year-old law enacted by the British: "As an Indian, I find it baffling that the very keepers of Indian morality - the populist Hindu yogi, the sharia-upholding Muslim groups, the khadi-clad patriotic politicians - fail to realise that the law that they are defending was put in place by Victorians drunk on muscular Christianity."

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Media captionSanjoy Majumder speaks to gay rights campaigners, who say they will continue to fight

Although the Indian court stated that very few people have been prosecuted, Mr Deo says that he has witnessed the real-world impact of the law.

"I have seen teenagers and grown men turned into nervous wrecks by the threat of bullying and blackmail," he writes. "I have seen toxic arranged marriages and enforced bachelor-hoods, suicides and lives lived in guilt and admonition."

BBC's Delhi correspondent Soutik Biswas agrees: "It has never been easy to be openly gay in India, as I found out while doing a story on the community some years ago. Homosexuals face homophobia at work and struggle to find partners, as well as suffering from low self-esteem."

The Guardian's Priyamvada Gopal laments that India missed its opportunity to free itself from oppressive colonial-era laws when it modernised its constitution in 1950. "As long as India continues to adhere to this sexual hierarchy it cannot be said to be fully culturally independent of Victorian Britain," she writes. "No high growth indices or boasting about being an economic 'powerhouse' can cover up the scandal of a servile adherence to colonial bigotry."

What the Indian court's decision really means, writes the Week's Emily Shire, is that the LGBT movement's success in Western nations is not enough.

"In a year that has seen some major gay rights success in the United States, as well as improvements in the public's attitudes towards homosexuality and same-sex marriage, it is easy to become complacent," she writes. "But as the recent ruling in India shows, our domestic gains for LGBT rights do not necessarily translate abroad — and in some countries, the situation is worsening."

The Washington Post's WorldViews blog produced a map showing in which countries homosexuality is criminalised, including much of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. The Post's Max Fisher writes that the map doesn't paint the whole picture, however: "India is the world's second-most populous country, with 1.24 billion citizens. That's more than the combined populations of the next 20 most-populous countries where same-sex acts are criminalized."

He concludes that the number of homosexuals in the world who can be imprisoned for acting on their sexuality "may well have just doubled".