India’s attorney-general blames Victorian Britain for anti-gay laws

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

In an apparent change of heart from the position it adopted three years ago, the Indian government has said that homosexuality was tolerated in pre-colonial India, and it was only the British who imposed their Victorian values of morality on what was a largely liberal land. 

India’s chielf law officer GE Vahanvati told the Supreme Court that it was only in Britain that homosexuals “were widely despised and buggery was a capital crime until 1961,” quoting from a book on the British Raj by Lawrence James.

The statment, made on behalf of the federal government, further added that “for many British onlookers, Indian erotic act was a revelation of practices which were all but unheard of in their homeland, or condemned as deviant and depraved. There was group sex, oral sex, sex in every conceivable position, buggery and masturbation.”

Yet, only a month ago, the Additional Solicitor General PP Malhotra had submitted to the Court that gay sex was “highly immoral and against social order and there is high chance of spreading of diseases through such acts.” India’s Home Ministry quickly retracted the statement, however, calling it a “miscommunication,” when there appeared to be an immediate and widespread backlash to the comments, and for which it received a rebuke from the Supreme Court.

Furthermore, the government had, in the original case which overturned the ban on gay sex, opposed the decriminalisation, on the grounds that public opinion was overwhelmingly against it. But, the Delhi High Court in 2009 overturned the ban, saying it was a “violation of fundamental rights” and an “antithesis of the right to equality.”

The current appeal in the Supreme Court was launched by an astrologer and a yoga guru, both of whom want the ban reinstated, and has the backing of all the major religious groups in the country.