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India Breaks Free?

India’s decision to decriminalise homosexuality is presented as the country shaking off the last vestiges of colonialism. The reality is not so simple.

Illustration by Ben Jones.On 6 September 2018, India, the world’s largest democracy, finally decriminalised homosexuality. This historic judgment was passed after years of courtroom battles, long and arduous campaigns and protests, organised by millions of citizens, organisations and activists. The moment was widely celebrated.

For the first time, Indian citizens who identify as part of the LGBT community ceased to be outlawed. Initial reactions in the media reflected the populist idea that India had finally managed to break free of the shackles of colonialism. Within the first Indian Penal Code (1860), which came into force in January 1862, was Section 377, on ‘Unnatural Offences’. Based on the English Buggery Act (1533), it stated: ‘Whoever has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or … for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.’

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