Saturday, September 23, 2006


You are not the kind of person to take up a crusade, you are famously allergic to them, but you are now the moving spirit behind the recent campaign to remove Section 377 of the IPC. Why do you feel this is so important?

I am certainly not allergic to causes—particularly on subjects such as religious intolerance. I have spoken out pretty clearly and freely about that, and also about certain events such as Tiananmen and the Iraq war and so on. But on the whole, you are quite right, I tend to put my views forward more through my writing than by taking up causes. In this particular case, the initial credit should go to Siddharth Dube who is the chap who actually drafted the letter—I only made a few minor corrections, although I am one of the main co-signatories.

You should also look at Amartya Sen's noble and forthright letter. I do believe in important causes and while I am quite happy to be considered a moving spirit of this cause, the credit goes at least as much elsewhere.

There have been about nine convictions in the 125 years since this section was included in the IPC. Why then is it so important to remove it?

For several reasons. First, because it is used as a source of harassment of people. We do know of cases that took place in Lucknow and elsewhere. And we do know that people are harassed by the police for this sort of thing. As Amartya Sen points out in his letter, gay behaviour is of course much more widespread than the cases that are brought to trial:
"What has to be borne in mind is that whenever any behaviour is identified as a penalisable crime, it gives the police and other law-enforcement officers huge powers to harass and victimise some people. The harm done by an unjust law like this can therefore be far larger than would be indicated by cases of actual prosecution."
And that's only one reason.

The other reason is that a law like this casts a shadow of illegality on the personal lives of a whole lot of people. They can't live openly and with dignity. Because even their families and well-wishers tend to use the existence of the law to justify their prejudices. As Siddharth says in the International Herald Tribune:

"It doesn't take prosecution in a law court to make people terrified. As a gay Indian one always feels like an outsider, ostracised. I felt like a criminal all the time."

That's the crucial point.

Did this law affect you in a similar way? Did it have a personal effect on your own life?

Yes. For instance, when my mother was a lawyer and later when she became a judge, I enjoyed browsing around in her law books. When I was quite young, I came across Section 377 which was in fact written in very odd Victorian phrasing about carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman and so on. And as I read the description of what this section actually meant, I realised it even included, if you can believe it, oral sex between a husband and wife. A crazy law like this has no place on our books. And of course a law that is selectively used is in one aspect even worse than a law that is generally used because it puts a lot of power in individuals' hands and makes government a rule not of laws but of people.
Now you ask me whether this directly affected me. Yes. When I realised that I had feelings for men as well as women, at first I was worried and frightened, and there was a certain amount of Who am I? Am I a criminal? and so on. It took me a long time to come to terms with myself.


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