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UN body slams India on rights of gays April 24, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in Times of India.
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24 Apr 2008, 0334 hrs IST,Dhananjay Mahapatra,TNN

New Delhi: India faced intense questioning from the international community on homosexuality and the widening gap between rich and poor at a recent meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

It termed the provision in Indian Penal Code making “unnatural sex” an offence as a legacy of the British and countered the allegation of widening rich-poor gap by citing the Centre’s decision to waive farm loans to the tune of Rs 60,000 crore — an example of many efforts to make growth inclusive.

The Swedish delegation questioned India on homosexuality and was concerned that it was still considered an offence in the country.

Replying to the query, solicitor general of India G E Vahanvati went back in history and said, “In the early 19th century, the English frowned on homosexuality. There are historical reports that various people came to India to take advantage of its more liberal atomosphere with regard to different kinds of sexual conduct.

Some of them, in fact, joined the Army and as Army officers they were more privileged than ordinary people.” To stop this, the British inserted Section 377 in Indian Penal Code — the concept of sexual offences against the order of nature, essentially a western concept, which has remained in the penal laws for years.

“Homosexuality, as such, is not defined in Indian Penal Code. But, it will be a matter of great argument whether it is against the order of nature,” Vahanvati said.

He also underlined the efforts of an NGO — Naz Foundation — to challenge the constitutional validity of Section 377 of IPC and told the conference how the Supreme Court saw merit in the PIL and has asked the Delhi High Court to adjudicate the matter.

However, he did not forget to mention the report of the Law Commission of India on homosexuality. The commission had stated that Indian society did not consider homosexuality an acceptable form of behaviour, Vahanvati said and requested the international community to await the outcome of the judicial scrutiny.

Delegations from Brazil, Algeria and Nigeria referred to India’s phenomenal growth but raised questions whether this was inclusive growth and expressed concern over reports about widening gulf between the rich and poor.

Vahanvati agreed that widening rich-poor gap was one of the greatest concerns of the government in India. “This is not going to disappear overnight but it requires sustained will and coordinated programmes which we have already put in action,” he said, citing the Rs 60,000 crore farm loan waiver.

He said farmers in India, being dependant on rain, faced serious problems in paying back debt in case the monsoon failed. “The decision to waive off $15 billion in farm loans is one of the largest schemes undertaken by any government to promote the welfare of its agriculturists… This is one example of what we are trying to do,” he said.

dhananjay.mahapatra@timesgroup.com

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