M_Id_445448_HarshvardhanNew Delhi: The government has the responsibility to protect the rights of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, says India’s federal health minister.

“Everybody, including gays, has human rights. It is the job of the government to protect their rights,” media reported Dr Harsh Vardhan as saying July 17 in New Delhi.

He, however, declined to comment if this was a reversal of the position of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP; Indian peoples party) which had supported the Supreme Court judgment  past December when it upheld the validity of the anti-gay Section 377 law that criminalized same-sex relations.

Vardhan, a medical practitioner,  took office May 26 after the BJP swept the general elections to become the first single political party in three decades to win overall majority in the lower house of parliament.

Rajnath Singh India’s current Home minister, the second most important post in the federal cabinet who was the party president at the time of the Supreme Court ruling went to the extent of saying that “Gay sex is not natural and we cannot support something which is unnatural.”

However, India’s present and present finance and defense minister Arun Jaitley has gone on record to say before he took office that he tended to agree more with the Delhi High Court order decriminalizing same-sex relations sex.

Gay people continue to face a social stigma in India, where hugging, kissing and any form of public display of affection by even straight couples is strongly frowned upon.

The gay, lesbian and bisexual community in India is facing severe constraints, waging a legal battle to do away with the British colonial-era “Section 377” law that describes same-sex relations as “unnatural” and punishable with life imprisonment.

India saw a window of opportunity in equality laws when the Delhi High Court in 2009 decriminalized same-sex relations and gave the gay community broad protections and rights by saying that banning consensual same-sex relations  was in violation of an individual’s rights to freedom under  the Indian Constitution.

However the Indian Supreme Court reversed that decision past December and a month later dismissed a plea by the former federal government, gay rights activists and organizations for reviewing its overarching verdict. Currently, a new Supreme Court bench has agreed to re-examine that decision.

India has at least 40-60 million LGBT people in India but anecdotal suggestion that one in 10 people are LGBT would put the figure even higher, at around 120 million people in India.

Source: indiatoday.intoday.in; dnaindia.com