LGBT Indian nationals and about 20 supporters gathered outside the Indian embassy in Washington on Wednesday to protest a decision by India’s Supreme Court to reinstate a British colonial era law that criminalizes sodomy between consenting adults.
The ruling Wednesday overturned a 2009 decision by a lower court that declared the sodomy law violated India’s constitution. The ruling this week by the Supreme Court said it would be up to India’s Parliament to decide whether to repeal or retain the sodomy statute.
“The Indian Supreme Court just plunged its LGBT citizens – 15 million by conservative estimates – into being criminals yet again,” said Tushar Malik, an Indian citizen and gay activist working temporarily in Washington as a Global Engagement Fellow with the Human Rights Campaign.
“Four years of freedom I enjoyed back home, and today in a foreign country I am sad to see that me and my friends and my brothers and sisters – everyone in India who might not identity as straight – can get imprisoned, can go to jail for 10 years up to a life sentence,” he told participants in the protest.
The protesters gathered around a statue in front of the embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian freedom fighter and leader of the country’s non-violent movement to gain independence from Great Britain.
While facing the embassy, some of the protesters held signs saying, “I don’t want to leave my country to be free and equal,” and “Criminals in Our Own Country.”
Malik, who organized the protest, called on President Obama and the U.S. State Department to put pressure on India to repeal the sodomy law or take steps to petition the high court to reverse its decision.
Sapna Pandya, president of Khush D.C., a group representing LGBT people from South Asia, said Khush is inviting the LGBT community to attend a candlelight vigil outside the Indian embassy on Friday night to continue to the protest of the Supreme Court ruling.
She said the vigil was expected to begin at 6 p.m. at the site of the Gandhi statue, which is located in a small triangular park where Massachusetts Avenue, 21st Street, and Q Street intersect.
“The idea is to use the symbol of the candlelight to suggest that the Indian Supreme Court needs to be illuminated and needs to be re-enlightened,” she said. “We were all so joyous when the Delhi High Court read down [Article] 377 [the sodomy statute] in 2009. To see us go backwards into the darkness and going backwards in history is so upsetting,” she said.
She said another objective of the vigil is to suggest to the Indian government that the state of democracy in the country “is not well” in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that takes away freedoms from LGBT people.
Malik, who is from New Delhi, said that although the sodomy law for the most part was not enforced against consenting adults engaging in sexual acts in private, the law was used to discriminate against gay people by labeling them as law-breakers. He said the law was also used by police to harass LGBT people and by blackmailers to extort money from gay people.
“I am gay and I’m a criminal in the eyes of the law,” Malik told the gathering on Wednesday. “I’m not going to give up and I’m going to fight.”