Centre LGBT

LGBT rights activists take part in the Bengaluru Gay Pride March 2017 in Bangalore Nov. 26, 2017. A group of IIT students and alumni have petitioned the Supreme Court to repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality. (Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court May 17 sought a response from the Center on a plea filed by a batch of 20 current and former Indian Institutes of Technology students to repeal the law that criminalizes homosexuality.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud issued notice to the government seeking its reply to the plea and tagged it with similar petitions that have been referred to a five-judge constitution bench.

The plea challenged Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalizes sex between two consenting adults of the same gender.

A group of present and past students from IIT campuses across the country moved the apex court to challenge the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalizes homosexual activity and other unnatural sex.

Students, claiming to represent more than 350 LGBT alumni, students, staff and faculty from the IIT, said the existence of Section 377 caused them "mental trauma and illnesses, such as clinical depression and anxiety and relegated some of them to second-class citizenship." 

Coming together from across the country and from diverse religious, age, sex and other backgrounds, the petitioners said that Section 377 legitimizes the stigma associated with sexual orientation and its expression, and argued that sexual orientation is essential, fundamental, intrinsic and innate to an individual. 

Contending that the section violates Articles 14, 15, 16, 19 and 21 of the Constitution, the petitioners said: "The silence of our legislative wing and its ineffectiveness to even consider debating the need for the existence of this law is shameful, to say the least.

"The stigma, silence and violence that the section brings in its wake has led to some of us dealing with suicidal tendencies and some others attempting suicide in the past," the petitioners said in a press note.

The group of over 350 LGBT IIT students and alumni have come together through Pravritti, an informal pan-IIT LGBT group, which they say is a "safe space for us to interact, connect and network."

Noting that despite having studied in the best scientific institutions and having worked with the best of minds, the petitioners said Section 377 had left a "very deep impact on our lives."

"One can only imagine the amount of suffering and pain that Section 377 has caused and continues to cause in the lives of LGBT individuals across the country," the statement said. 

Earlier, the top court had referred to a constitution bench several pleas filed by eminent citizens and the NGO ‘Naz Foundation’ challenging the 2013 apex court verdict which re-criminalized gay sex between consenting adults.

Section 377 of the IPC refers to ‘unnatural offenses’ and says 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 pay a fine.

On Jan. 8, the top court had said that it will re-examine its 2013 verdict upholding Section 377 that criminalizes gay sex and observed that "a section of people or individuals who exercise their choice should never remain in a state of fear."

The Jan. 8 order had come on a petition by Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Bharatnatyam dancer Navtej Singh Johar, celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia and others holding that Section 377 was "violative of fundamental rights under Article 21 (right to life)."

With its 2013 order, the top court had set aside the Delhi High Court's July 2, 2009, verdict that decriminalized gay sex.

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