The problems with Section 377 aren’t purely symbolic, though. Yes, it has altered the way Indian culture thinks about these issues, and yes, it harkens back to the British occupation, but it also has countless tangible impacts on the way Indian LGBT people carry out their day to day lives.
The Indian Police force, for instance, have allegedly used the law to harass LGBT people. A 2006 report from the Human Rights Watch found that police from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh used Section 377 to persecute and arrest four men for operating a “gay racket” and engaging in “unnatural” sex.
What’s more, the last year has seen a 17% rise in the number of times 377 has been invoked.
Miss. Gopolan of the Naz Foundations says that Section 377 gives the police license to get away with this sort of harassment.
“The fact that you also have a very corrupt police force in play,” she said. “Why arm the police with additional ammunition to harass people?”
Mr. Rangnekar has been a victim of this sort of harassment.
“I was with my boyfriend, we were parked next to Lady Shri Ram College in Dehli. We didn’t know there was a festival, so there was extra police. Now, we weren’t really doing anything, we were just talking for a long time in the car.
The police came and started harassing us.
So, they played the good cop and the bad cop. He was taken to one side [of the road], and I was taken to the other. I was being asked questions – they thought that maybe I picked up this guy, or something like that.
But he knew everything about me, so they didn’t know what to do. They’d taken my car keys, my visiting card, everything. I said, “If there’s any troubles, come to my home.” And then they realised that there was no point going home, because it was no risk to me.
So they said, “Okay, we’ll call your office.” Now that bothered me. They used their power and [Section 377] to threaten and scare you. You can’t contest or fight them because you might get into a physical situation and you’re violated.”
Aside from his activism, Mr. Rangnekar has also had a long career in marketing. The world of business in India, he says, is not safe from the influence of Section 377.
“I myself faced this when I was the CEO of a company. There was a person, he ran a campaign over text message in Hindi and Punjabi and English, saying that you guys don’t have balls, you don’t have guts to be working for a gay person. Questioning masculinity of those other men in the office.”
“I was quite shocked, but it was the first time I had faced something like this – that in a professional environment I am being questioned about my personal life.”
Despite this, Udayan Dhar – the Project Lead for the business-focussed activist group MINGLE (Mission for Indian Gay and Lesbian Empowerment) – says that most large firms in India want to support LGBT issues.
“There’s a lot of interest in terms of being part of the LGBT inclusion journey which has just started in India. But I think where a lot of confusion lies is what exactly do companies do?” he said.
“We are still in the stage where a lot of companies are not comfortable to take up a leadership role in this area. That is where we’ve been facing a lot of challenge, and that is where the movement is very slow.”
He says Section 377 means many of them are afraid to do so for fear of the political and legal repercussions.
“That is why a lot of companies that are risk-averse don’t want to take steps sort of opens them up to future litigations. Of course none of that has happened up till now, but there’s just a lot of resistance to take that step.”
“That is where we’re up to, where we’ve already sold the business case, we just want a lot of other people to come on board and start on this journey.”
On an even simpler level, Mr. Dhar says Indian firms aren’t able to give basic healthcare and employee benefits, because to do so would require official government paperwork which Section 377 makes impossible.
He says this sort of risk-averse behaviour also carries over to education institutions.
“On campuses, a lot of senior level professors in some universities agree that we should do sensitisation or workshops specifically on issues of gender and sexuality.”
“But then there is some pushback from other elements on the campus.”
“Because this is illegal, by promoting this are we not going against the law?” he said. “And because a lot of these universities in India are partially funded by the government, they cannot take any risk in terms of doing anything that could be seen as going against the law.”