Shashi Tharoor’s move to amend Section 377 shot down; Parliament shows disdain for gay rights

Private member's Bill to amend Section 377 and decriminalise gay sex shot down in Parliament. Politicians don't really care about gay rights

FP Staff December 18, 2015 21:13:32 IST
Shashi Tharoor’s move to amend Section 377 shot down; Parliament shows disdain for gay rights

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s private member’s Bill seeking to amend Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalises homosexuality, was shot down before it could be presented in the Lok Sabha for debate on Friday.

The Bill received the support of 24 MPs. While one abstained from voting, 71 MPs voted it down. Tharoor reacted by saying he was “surprised by the intolerance”.

The Bill aimed to decriminalise sexual intercourse in private between consenting adults, irrespective of their sexuality or gender, by restricting the applicability of the section.

Shashi Tharoors move to amend Section 377 shot down Parliament shows disdain for gay rights

Representational image. Reuters

The proposed amendment sought to introduce five substitutions in the current law to establish the importance of consent during sexual intercourse, with the age of consent being above 18 years.

“The bill proposes to restrict applicability of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to non-consensual sexual acts between persons or sexual acts with persons under the age of eighteen years as long as such acts are not punishable under sections 375, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D or 376E of the Indian Penal Code,” read Tharoor’s proposal.

According to reports, a notice of intent to oppose the introduction to the Bill was moved just as Tharoor attempted to introduce it. BJP MP Nishikant Dubey stood up to oppose the Bill and called for a division of the house to decide whether it should be taken up for debate.

BJP’s stand in the Lower House on Friday is at odds with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s position. In a literary festival in New Delhi on 29 November, Jaitley supported gay rights saying the Supreme Court must reconsider its decision upholding colonial-era Section 377 of the IPC.

Jaitley had stated that the Supreme Court judgement on Section 377 was not correct and added that “at some stage, they may have to reconsider”.

The Supreme Court had ruled last year that only Parliament can change Section 377, which prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal”, and is widely interpreted to refer to homosexual intercourse. A lower court had overturned this section of the code in 2009.

The fate that befell Tharoor’s private member’s bill, which is introduced by an MP who is not a minister, and which follows the same process adopted in the passage of a government bill – proposed by ministers, is not new. According to PRS Legislative Research, which monitors the affairs of Parliament, only 14 such bills have been passed since Independence.

“The last private member's bill passed by Parliament was the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill, 1968, which became an act on August 9, 1970,” PRS’ research states. “The last Lok Sabha [constituted in 2009 and dissolved in May 2014] saw 300 such bills introduced and barely four per cent of them were discussed while 96 per cent lapsed without even a single debate in the house.”

The Lok Sabha that is now in session has passed one Private Member’s Bill – Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, which came into effect in April this year.

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