INDIA’s Supreme Court in a landmark decision on Thursday ruled that gay sex was no longer considered an offence, a historic moment for the LGBTQ in the socially conservative nation.
The ruling overturns a 2013 judgment upholding a colonial-era Section 377 of the law, under which gay sex was deemed an “unnatural offence” punishable by a 10-year jail term.
On top of that, the court also ruled discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation a fundamental violation of rights.
“Thursday’s decision was delivered by a five-judge bench headed by India’s outgoing chief justice Dipak Misra and was unanimous,” BBC reported.
“Another judge, Indu Malhotra, said she believed ‘history owes an apology’ to LGBT people for ostracising them.”
The historic decision was celebrated by many across the nation, with campaigners outside the court cheering and breaking down in tears of joy. It is hoped that with the ruling, attitudes toward the LGBTQ in India will change and all communities will find full acceptance.
Same-sex relationships are still criminalised in much of the world, however, including in at least 20 countries in Asia. Some countries have enacted protections for the LGBTQ, but these are often limited and the community continues to face discrimination in spite of them.
For example, in the Southeast Asian nation of Malaysia this week, two local Muslim women were caned in public for attempting to have lesbian sex. The sentence, which was passed in the state of Terengganu under the Syariah law, drew the ire of lawmakers and rights activists around the globe.
“Caning is a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and may amount to torture,” Amnesty International Malaysia said in a statement.
“People should not live in fear because they are attracted to people of the same sex. The Malaysian authorities must immediately repeal repressive laws, outlaw torturous punishments and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture.”
For many in Malaysia, it is too close for comfort as the incident follows a brutal attack that took place in the state of Negeri Sembilan, south of Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, just a couple of weeks prior. A transgender woman, Suki, was beaten up by eight men with sticks and plastic pipes, leaving her with broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, and head injuries that required seven stitches.
The assailants have since been arrested by the police, but the growing hostility towards gay and transgender people in the Muslim-majority country remains evident. Same-sex relations are forbidden under Islamic law. Malaysia’s current prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim was only recently released from prison where he was sent for five years for committing sodomy, an act deemed an offence under the country’s Penal Code.
Similar attitudes toward the LGBTQ can be observed in neighbouring Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.
Last May, two men became the first people to be given corporal punishment for homosexuality under Aceh’s Syariah legal code. They were whipped 82 times after vigilantes raided their rental home in Banda Aceh and they were charged with having a same-sex relationship.
More recently this week, a local township in Aceh issued a circular barring men and women from dining together unless they are married or related. An official from the Bireun district on Wednesday said it would help women behave appropriately in public.
These incidents offer a glimpse of why the Indian court ruling, a liberal counterweight to other conservative practices that remain in place in the South Asian country, is being hailed as a major milestone for LGBTQ rights in Asia.
For members of the community travelling to Asia, it would serve you well to know in which countries homosexuality is actually legal. Apart from India, here 10 others:
- South Korea
A version of this article was first published on our sister website Travel Wire Asia.