Time Magazine today hailed Dr Arundhati Katju and Dr Menaka Guruswamy as amongst the 100 most influential people in the world. Last year, the two lawyers spearheaded the historic legal battle for LGBTIQ rights in India. Their efforts finally saw Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code overturned.
Section 377, a hangover from the colonial era, criminalised gay sex.
The one hundred and fifty-seven-year-old legislation made any sexual activity ‘against the order of nature’ illegal.
The law criminalised both anal and oral sex irrelevant of the sexuality or gender of the participant. However, in practice, police mainly used the law against homosexuals.
On those occasions when police charged heterosexuals with breaking those laws, the plaintiffs were invariably from the lower castes.
Actor Priyanka Chopra spoke of the role of Dr Arundhati Katju and Dr Menaka Guruswamy.
“This landmark judgment, overturning a 157-year-old law, was the outcome of a long-term campaign orchestrated by two amazing public-interest litigators.”
LGBTIQ rights in India
The legal action they argued and guided through the courts, effectively liberated millions. After a century and a half, LGBTIQ rights in India finally progressed.
Many previously suffered state sanctioned violence, and millions lived with extreme social prejudice and discrimination.
The lawyers argued Section 377 criminalised a natural human condition which, prior to British rule, had an accepted place in Indian society. Further they said the law violated citizens’ rights to privacy and dignity.
Both women have stellar legal careers. Dr. Menaka Guruswamy achieved advanced degrees in law from the University of Oxford, Harvard Law School and the National Law School of India University. Dr. Arundhati Katju gained her Doctorate from Columbia University.
After the Supreme Court win, Dr. Katju said, “We wanted to show this case is not narrowly about criminalizing sex acts. It’s about love and life.”
The Indian Supreme Court panel of five justices voted unanimously to overrule Section 377.
India’s Chief justice said, “Constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality.”
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