Relaymedia

Young Indians Split Over Scrapping Gay Ban

A campaign to repeal an Indian law that makes homosexuality a crime has split young people in New Delhi and Mumbai, with about half of them in favor of scrapping the legislation.
( [email protected] ) Oct 02, 2006 02:24 PM EDT

A campaign to repeal an Indian law that makes homosexuality a crime has split young people in New Delhi and Mumbai, with about half of them in favor of scrapping the legislation, according to a survey published Monday.

The support for doing away with the anti-homosexuality law was surprisingly strong, and other findings of the poll appear to indicate that once-widespread prejudices against gay men and lesbians are slowly disappearing.

The poll, published in the Hindustan Times newspaper and conducted by the firm C fore, found that 52 percent of those surveyed in New Delhi, the capital, believe the anti-homosexuality law should be repealed. Another 31 percent favored keeping the law, while 17 percent were not sure.

Support for legalizing homosexuality in Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment center, was a bit lower, with 46 percent of respondents in favor of scrapping the law and 40 percent against the move. Some 14 percent of respondents were unsure.

Same-sex marriage, however, was opposed by 53 percent of those surveyed in New Delhi and 63 percent in Mumbai. The survey polled 415 people between the ages of 15 and 25 and was conducted from September 19 to 22, the newspaper reported. No margin of error was given.

Homosexuality has long been taboo in India, and anti-gay and lesbian prejudices remain widespread. But, just as is the case in many traditional cultures, there also has long been an underground gay and lesbian culture.

The law makes consensual sex between two adults of the same sex a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It was imposed in 1861 by British colonial authorities who ruled India until 1947. While prosecutions are rare, gay activists say police use the law to harass them.

In recent years, health workers from the government and private organizations have complained that forcing gays and lesbians underground has hampered efforts to halt the spread of HIV in the gay community. Those complaints, coupled with loosening mores among India's expanding middle and upper classes, have pushed officials toward getting rid of the anti-homosexuality law.

Well-known Indian author Vikram Seth this month joined the fray, urging the law be scrapped in an open letter published in many Indian newspapers.

A gay rights activist from Mumbai, Ashok Row Kavi, said Monday that regardless of the move to legalize homosexuality, gay men and lesbians remain underground in New Delhi, long considered among the most straitlaced of India's major cities. "Gays are in (the) closet in New Delhi," Kavi said of the survey.