Harsh Vardhan supports decriminalization of the Section 377, will BJP back him?

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Harsh Vardhan
After his controversial remark on sex education that it should be banned in schools, Union Minister Harsh Vardhan waded into another controversy on Thursday. When asked about his view on gay rights, Health Minister said the rights of homosexuals should be protected and this is being interpreted as his support for decriminalisation of the Section 377 of Indian Penal Code.

"Everybody has human rights. It is the job of the Government to protect them," Minister said, while speaking during an event in capital.

The Minister's statement has come close on the heels of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) spokesman Ram Madhav's declaration that this section of IPC is debatable. Ram Madhav who has now joined BJP, in an interview to a business daily had said that he didn't glorify certain kinds of behaviour covered under Section 377.

RSS has wrestled over this controversial topic time and again

What is Section 377?

The section is dated back to 1861, introduced by British regime which says, "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine".

Supreme Court Judgement (December, 2013)

It considered homosexuality a crime which attracts a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

"It is relevant to mention here that Section 377 IPC does not criminalise a particular people or identity or orientation. It merely identifies certain acts, which if committed, would constitute an offence. Such prohibition regulates sexual conduct regardless of gender identity and orientation," the court had said.

"Notwithstanding this verdict, the competent legislature shall be free to consider the desirability and propriety of deleting Section 377 IPC from the statute book or amend the same as per the suggestion made by the Attorney General", judge said.

High Court decision (July 2009)

In a ground-breaking judgment, the Court struck down the provision of Section 377 on July 2, 2009.

The court believed that section 377 was the violation of fundamental rights of individual guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

"We declare that Section 377 of the IPC, insofar as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21 (Right to Protection of Life and Personal Liberty), 14 (Right to Equality before Law) and 15 (Prohibition of Discrimination on Grounds of Religion, Race, Caste, Sex or Place of birth) of the Constitution.

"We hold that sexual orientation is a ground analogous to sex, and that discrimination on sexual orientation is not permitted under Article 15," the judgment said while announcing order on a PIL filed by NGO Naz Foundation.

What BJP believes?

Calling Section 377 an unnatural act, BJP had welcomed the Supreme Court's last year's decision.

The then party president Rajnath Singh had said, "If an all-party meeting is called, we will support Section 377 as we believe that homosexuality is an unnatural act. We cannot support it".

Another leader of party, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had also supported it. He said "What Rajnath Singh has said is the official stand. We have a culture and tradition and this goes against it. One cannot allow a new culture of this kind... against the established norms of society".

Party should clear its official stand

This recent statement of Harsh Vardhan and Ram Madhav's concurrences has put BJP in a fix. Its official line is completely different from what the leaders have said. RSS, who claims to be a protector of Indian values and cultures, also has wrestled over this controversial topic time and again. Only time will tell the dominos effect of these statements but one thing is clear BJP needs to relook the issue again and clear its stand on the same.

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