Criminalisation of homosexuality: SC begins hearing pleas on Section 377 of IPC

New Delhi: A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court began hearing petitions against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that makes homosexuality a crime. Yesterday, a Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar had dismissed the Centre’s plea for adjourning today’s hearing. The Centre wanted some more time to file its response to the pleas on gay sex.

The Court, however, noted that since the case has been awaiting the hearing for some time, the Centre should have filed its response on PILs. Besides, Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Chandrachud and Justice Khanwilkar, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Indu Malhotra will comprise the constitution bench established to hear the matter.

In December 2013, the apex court had criminalised sexual relationship between consenting adults of the same sex by setting aside the Delhi High Court’s July 2, 2009 judgment, which had decriminalised it. The HC had held Section 377 of IPC “illegal.”

In the wake of the SC verdict, review petitions were filed. When they were dismissed, curative petitions were filed. The SC had referred several PILs filed by NGO Naz Foundation and eminent citizens challenging the 2013 verdict to a constitution bench.

What is Section 377?

Section 377 refers to “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 a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Who filed PILs against the SC ruling?

The SC had on Jan.8 agreed to re-examine its verdict upholding Section 377 while noting that “a section of people or individuals who exercise their choice should never remain in a state of fear.” Maintaining that Section 377 was “violative of fundamental rights under the Constitution’s Article 21 (right to life),” the petition, which led to Jan.8 orders, was filed by celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia, Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Bharatanatyam dancer Navtej Singh Johar, and others.

In April, Lalit Suri Hospitality group Managing Director Keshav Suri, who is also an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights activist, filed a PIL in the SC challenging the Section 377’s constitutional validity.