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One of the world’s longest-running LGBT+ right battles has finally been won in India

Today, India’s Supreme Court struck down a 157 year-old colonial-era law - imposed by the British during the country’s colonial past - decriminalising consensual same-sex sexual acts.


Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalised “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, which was interpreted to mean all sexual acts other than heterosexual sex, enabling widespread discrimination against sexual and gender minorities.


Five judges of the country’s Supreme Court began hearing arguments for and against decriminalising consensual same-sex relations in July. On Thursday morning the court delivered a unanimous verdict. 


The Chief Justice, Dipak Misra, ruled: “Section 377 is arbitrary. LGBT community possess rights like others. Majoritarian views and popular morality cannot dictate constitutional rights". Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman on the bench, said history owed an apology to those persecuted in the past.


Kaleidoscope Trust’s Executive Director Paul Dillane, said:


"Today's judgment from the Indian Supreme Court is a historic moment for sexual and gender minorities across India. A country of over a billion people no longer criminalises people for who they are and who they love. We pay tribute to the tireless work by activists, organisations and communities across the country. India joins countries including Seychelles, Mozambique, Belize and Trinidad & Tobago which have all decriminalised homosexuality in recent years. The ruling has truly global repercussions given laws criminalising consensual same-sex acts continue to blight the lives of LGBT+ people in over 70 countries across the the world."


Kaleidoscope Trust, the UK’s leading international LGBT+ charity, is a founding member and current secretariat of The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN), a network of organisations working collectively to advance equality for LGBT+ people across the Commonwealth. In recent years,  litigation challenging colonial-era criminalising laws has been successful in countries including Trinidad & Tobago and Belize.


In April, as a result of campaigning by TCEN member organisations, the British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her “deep regret” for Britain’s history of exporting colonial-era discriminatory laws including those which criminalise LGBT+ people including India. She said "I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now."


During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, hosted by the UK Government earlier this year, the UK Government announced a £5.6 million programme to build fairer, more equal and more inclusive Commonwealth societies by supporting countries seeking to reform laws that discriminate against women and girls and LGBT+ people. 


The Equality & Justice Alliance – a consortium composed of international NGOs Kaleidoscope Trust, Human Dignity Trust, The Royal Commonwealth Society and Sisters For Change – will engage with Commonwealth leaders, governments and civil society actors to advance equality and equal protection before the law in order to secure the rights of all Commonwealth citizens, regardless of gender, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression. 


As the Commonwealth’s most populous country, this landmark judgment is of global significance to LGBT+ movements throughout the Commonwealth and across the world.


Image: Jesse Rapczak