Gay Rights in India: A Discussion From the 1990s

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.

In a 1996 discussion on gay rights in India, an article written by H Srikanth as a response to Vimal Balasubrahmanyan’s piece on the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA) received responses from various authors challenging his critique of the gay rights movement and his views on homosexuality. 

The backdrop of the discussion was Balasubrahmanyan’s coverage, in her article, of ABVA—an organisation fighting for AIDS-related human rights issues and campaigning for gay rights—that held a demonstration in Delhi in 1992 to protest the arrest and harassment of suspected gay men in the city. ABVA filed a petition with the Delhi High Court challenging the validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) followed by a meeting to mobilise support for their petition. Balasubrahmanyan summarises the key highlights of the resolution passed in the meeting: that all forms of sexual expressions are given religious sanction in India, medical establishments world over have accepted homosexuality as normal, and Section 377 of the IPC, drafted in 1860 during British colonial rule is antiquated.

H Srikanth responded to Balasubrahmanyan’s article, questioning her “intellectual justification” of gay rights as having little “social relevance.” He writes, “far from solving the problems of homosexuals (sic), her prescriptions only help in rationalising and justifying the archaic and decadent sexual practices in society.” He goes on to suggest that homosexual relations having social sanction at one point in time does not rationalise their existence now. Further, he feels that any struggle for the rights of homosexuals must also explain the emancipatory role played by gay and lesbian movements. 

Following Srikanth’s article, Sharmila Rege, Pulapre Balakrishnan, and A Suneetha responded. 

Rege calls his article “homophobic,” and his reading of gay and lesbian movements “completely mistaken.” Rege outlines the critique of the various theories that Srikanth refers to such as the Engelian framework that proposes linkages between the system of production and kinship, and instead presents the latest research to validate her claims. Contrary to Srikanth’s claims,  Rege points out that gay rights demonstrations had little to do with freedom of sex, and more to do with gay and lesbian identities being condemned by the heterosexual majority.

While agreeing with Rege on gay rights movements centred around the politics of identities and not sexual acts, Balakrishnan writes in a letter to the editor that the attitudes of the public pose a greater challenge for gay rights than legal battles.

Suneetha also writes that Srikanth’s stand comes “dangerously close” to expressing homophobia, and that the “normality” of heterosexuality is, in fact, a “highly constructed one.”

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Gay and Lesbian Movement in India, Sherry Joseph, 1996
  2. Gay and Lesbian Movement, Ashok Row Kavi, 1996
  3. Stigmatising Gays, Emily Gray, 2011
  4. Beyond Legalism: How can the LGBT+ Movement Be Expanded Outside of the Courtroom? EPW Engage, 2020
  5. Rights through Resistance, Francis Kuriakose and Deepa Kylasam Iyer, 2020


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—“Gay Rights and Society”


Curated by Anandita Chandra []

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