Head of India’s ruling party calls criminalization of same-sex sexual activity “not acceptable”

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The head of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced that he feels the criminalization of same-sex sexual activity is “not acceptable.”

On August 15, the country’s Independence Day, Mumbai chief Ashish Shelar attended an “Acceptance Meet” event where he announced, “Criminalizing the gay community by misusing section 377 of the IPC [Indian Penal Code] is not acceptable to the BJP,” according to DNA India.

The event, which drew about two hundred and fifty people, was planned by community groups such as the non-governmental organization Humsafar Trust, a promoter of LGBT rights.

Shelar continued, “Decriminalising consensual sex between two adults is a pressing need. The Union minister of health Harsh Vardhan, has already shown his support for the cause. I also think parliament cannot ignore something which affects such a large number of people.”

Additionally, he said that he intends to bring up the issue with prime minister Narendra Modi.

The same day, he posted on Twitter:

His comments are a departure from the BJP party’s previous stance in support of the Supreme Court’s reinstatement of the law against gay sex, originally struck down as unconstitutional in 2009.

Some at the event were less than optimistic about the likelihood of change. DNA India reported that activist Y. P. Singh, a lawyer, told Shelar, “Political parties like the BJP and Congress won’t push for doing something because they’re more worried about their conservative vote bank.”

Instead, Singh suggested, LGBT community members and allies should file Right to Information (RTI) applications to obtain copies of police reports, and if need be, complaints of extortion if the police attempt to overstep their bounds and trap or harass them.

Another activist present, Abha Singh, said that “Given the numbers involved and the assembly elections around the corner, parties should not ignore the community.” She added, “As a mother, I wouldn’t want anybody’s child being called a criminal based on her/his sexuality.”

The founder and chairperson of the Humsafar Trust, Ashok Row Kavi, spoke of how police persecution and extortion had increased since December 2013, when the law against gay sex was reinstated: “The police invokes Sec 110 of the Bombay Police Act, to harass homosexuals. They then have the freedom to decide what constitutes indecency.”

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