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Section 377 criminalising ‘unnatural sex’ may be scrapped, says Sadananda Gowda

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D-V-Sadananda-Gowda

By NewsGram Staff Writer

After the historic US verdict legalising same sex marriage received positive reception on social media, India may be planning to move along similar lines.

Union Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda has indicated that India could move towards abolishing Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises ‘unnatural sex’,  including gay liaisons.

Legalisation of gay marriages could also be considered, Gowda said.

“The mood appears to be in favour of it. But it can be done only after widespread consultations and taking all views into account”, added the minister.

For a politician hailing from Puttur in Dakshina Kannada district, the conservative part of the Mangaluru Lok Sabha constituency, Gowda has taken a radical stance.

The coastal belt is known as a stronghold of the Sangh Parivar, and has strong, and negative views on homosexuality.

Irrespective of the views of his patrons,  Gowda contends that a legislation on the rights of transgenders could provide a model for the Indian gay community.

To emphasize the possibility, Gowda pointed out that after several years of delay, a private member’s Bill on the rights of transgenders, moved in the Rajya Sabha by Tiruchi Siva of DMK, had received overwhelming response.

“That Bill has been passed by the Rajya Sabha (in April) and everyone supported it. If that Bill is passed by the Lok Sabha and becomes an Act, Section 377 will become irrelevant,” Gowda said.

However, Gowda’s remarks on the fallout of the legislation on transgenders were somewhat away from reality.

“My bill was just limited to the educational, economic, employment and health rights of transgenders”, Tiruchi Siva of DMK told ET.

The minister added that the bill did not talk about Section 377 or anything other than the rights of transgenders.

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Landmark Judgement: Right to Privacy Becomes Fundamental Right of India, Rules Supreme Court

Supreme Court today ruled, the right to privacy "is protected as an intrinsic part of Article 21 that protects life and liberty."

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Supreme Court rules Right to privacy a fundamental right
The Supreme Court of India. Wikimedia
  • Right to privacy was made a fundamental right for citizens of India
  • The decision came out unanimously by the bench of 9 judges including Chief Justice JS Khehar
  • Lawyer Prashant Bhushan noted ‘all fundamental rights come with reasonable restrictions’

New Delhi, August 24, 2017: In another landmark verdict by the Supreme Court, Right to privacy was made a fundamental right for citizens of India. Supreme Court today ruled: The right to privacy “is protected as an intrinsic part of Article 21 that protects life and liberty.”

A crowd of petitioners previously challenged the government’s Aadhaar biometric project, which has taped the iris scans and fingerprints of more than half a population.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan noted ‘all fundamental rights come with reasonable restrictions.’ He further cautioned by saying that ‘whether Aadhaar can be seen as a reasonable restriction has yet to be decided’.

The decision came out unanimously by the bench of 9 judges including Chief Justice JS Khehar. Right to privacy is a fundamental right of every citizen, the judges said, overruling two previous Supreme Court judgments.

It is a watershed moment, remarked Sajan Poovayya, a petitioner in the case. “Whatever the state decides will be checked and tested on that basis. The powers of the state are curtailed to some extent,” he told NDTV.
Background: Government vs. Petitioners 
The government argued in the past that ‘right to privacy’ is not explicitly embodied in the Constitution as the founding fathers expelled the idea of inclusion of privacy as a fundamental liberty.
However, petitioners contended that in technologically dynamic society,  the identification of privacy as a fundamental freedom is an essential step against interference into personal space by the government and private players.

Adhar was criticised as a design which infringes privacy. India lacking the law on privacy aggravated the problem in the past.

Contentious argument: Why protect Adhaar? 

India is swiftly emerging as a digital market. Being a nation of billion mobile users, it needs laws on privacy and data protection as well.

Chances of fraudulence,  misrepresentation, ID theft are increasingly becoming the real concerns.

With the growing number of transactions done over the internet, information shared on such digital platforms become imperiled to misuse and theft.

Right to privacy bearing on Section 377

In 2013, the apex Court had supported Section 377 of the IPC, an iron fisted law that criminalizes the intimate relations “against the law of nature.” Today, the court’s decree on Right to Privacy also brought the protection of physical intimacies.

Explaining the concept of privacy, Justice DY Chandrachud, who was part of the nine-judge bench that pronounced the verdict, said in his judgment: “Privacy includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation… Privacy also connotes a right to be left alone.”


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Rainbow Designs: Using Architecture to Sensitize People for the Rights of LGBT Community

The sensitisation hub, shaped like a pizza slice, seeks to make the point that the environment can "remedy the shortcomings" of India's LGBT community

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pride flag
The rainbow pride flag of the LGBT community. wikimedia
  • 23-year-old Abhyam Shukla’s design of a sensitization centre for the community takes gender-tropes head on
  • Kolkata-based Shukla’s interest in designing the sensitization centre was triggered when a friend from the community committed suicide last year
  • Cities like Paris, Madrid and New York have hubs for the LGBT community and there is no reason why Indian cities should also not have umbrella centres

Kolkata, July 21, 2017: It’s shaped like a pizza slice and seeks to make the point that the environment can “remedy the shortcomings” of India’s LGBT community. Taking gender tropes head-on, 23-year-old Abhyam Shukla’s design of a sensitisation centre for the community, his undergraduate architectural thesis, makes it a dissertation with a difference.

Kolkata-based Shukla’s interest in designing the sensitisation centre was triggered when a friend from the community committed suicide last year.

“The idea came to me when a friend from Lucknow committed suicide and that’s when I realised how I could use architecture to benefit the community,” Shukla, who identifies himself as a bisexual, told IANS.

The Lady Ga Ga fan says the hub traverses the gray areas and eschews the binary perspective in architectural realms in the sense that it brings about a balance between masculine and feminine elements.

“In the last five years that I have studied architecture, I have been involved in theatre and making short films. So when I had to submit my thesis, I wanted to do something that had not been done by universities in India before,” Shukla explained.

Shukla, who has just concluded his B.Arch from Jadavpur University, says cities like Paris, Madrid and New York have hubs for the LGBT community and there is no reason why Indian cities should also not have umbrella centres.

Set in the satellite township of Rajarhat in northeastern fringes of Kolkata, the blueprint of the pizza-slice shaped, slightly dented triangular hub includes queer museum spaces, healthcare and housing plans amid a landscape replete with a “healthy mix of sharp angular edges as well as soft undulating curves”.

To shape his vision and to be fair to the community’s needs, Shukla conducted a survey of as many as 250 respondents from the LGBT community (15-25 year olds) spanning 24 states.

“I asked them if they would like such a centre in their city and I also asked them what functions they would like. Based on their feedback, I started my design,” said Shukla, for whom Danish architect Bjarke Bundgaard Ingels and India’s Charles Correa are inspirations.

A majority of respondents — when queried on how effective queer museums can be in educating society — backed the idea of queer libraries and museums in helping society draw inspiration from the past. Similarly, there was a thumping “yes” on the presence of judicial services and trauma cells for assisting the community in rehabilitative measures.

“What I wanted to do was to use the stereotypical notions of masculine and feminine and show the world the concept of a third gender. Nothing in the world is binary; there is a spectrum of gray. I tried to use the male form, the female form and then create a hybrid form. So my design has all the three mixed together to show that society is supposed to live like this,” he elaborated.

Some of the built spaces that were analysed by Shukla as case studies are the National Centre for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Welfare Centre for Children and Teenagers in Paris, the Proyecto Hombre in Madrid and the BE Friendly Space in Hanoi.

ALSO READHow did Rainbow Flag attain the Prestige of representing the LGBT Community?

Three main aspects — awareness, housing and healthcare — underpin the design elements of Shukla’s version. “In the awareness aspect, which encompasses queer museums and libraries, people can go and learn about the community. This gives will inform people that India has had a long tryst with homosexuality and debunk myths that it is a Western concept,” he said.

The housing facility provides shelter to the homeless and estranged members of the community,” added Shukla.

Gender activist Pawan Dhall felt a sensitisation hub was a great idea.

“I can just say that the idea is excellent. But I would be sceptical about housing plans. I’m not much in favour of people living in exclusive domains, unless it’s for people with special needs. Or because of old age and there is a need for institutionalised caregiving. Otherwise, a sensitisation hub idea is great. It would be even better if there are some elements of intersections with other social issues at the hub,” Dhall told IANS.

According to Gita Balakrishnan, Chairperson of the Indian Institute of Architects, West Bengal Chapter, the design indicates “sensitive handling of spaces that respects privacy while allowing freedom”.

However, activist Meenakshi Sanyal, questioned how a physical hub would function given the dichotomy in the legal perception (Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code) about the community in India.

“In 2009, the Delhi High Court had decriminalized homosexuality. That time a lot of closet LGBT members had come out. When the Supreme Court had set aside that verdict in 2013, many became invisible again. I am not saying the hub is not a good idea but there is a need to focus on the accessibility of a physical hub.

“In that sense, digital fora are more accessible. Also, with the Supreme Court recognising the rights of transgender people, there is a gap in the community… the ‘T’ from LGBT is removed… so we have to factor in all these aspects,” Sanyal, who runs LGBT community support group Sappho for Equality, told IANS. (IANS)


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India becoming more Transgender- Friendly: Read this report

Male-to-female "hijras", the most visible group in the transgender community, feature in Hindu mythology and are seen as auspicious oddities whose blessings are sought at weddings and births.

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Transgenders in India
People belonging to the transgender community take a picture with a mobile phone before the start of a rally for transgender rights in Mumbai, India, January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade - RTX2YSL4
India's Supreme Court gave transgender people "third gender" recognition in 2014.
A growing number of Indian companies are now actively hiring transgender people.
India's 2011 census recorded half a million transgender people, 
but campaigners estimate the number at about 2 million.

By Roli Srivastava

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – During a training session for its first set of transgender recruits, officials from the new metro rail company in the southern Indian city of Kochi asked them if they had any concerns. They had just one: bathroom access.

“The project construction was complete by then and the stations were ready,” said Reshmi Chandrathil Ravi, a spokeswoman for Kochi Metro Rail, a new network in the port city launched at the weekend by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“So we are now turning the big bathrooms for the differently-abled into all-gender bathrooms to be shared with the disabled,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The washroom signs have now been removed and sent for a fresh “inclusive design”. And the company has allowed its transgender recruits to choose a male or female uniform.

Kochi Metro Rail is the first government-owned company to recruit staff from the transgender community as part of Kerala state’s initiative to give the marginalised group better access to job opportunities.

Since India’s Supreme Court gave transgender people “third gender” recognition in 2014, a growing number of Indian companies have actively hired transgender people and drafted policies to ensure they are not discriminated against in the workplace.

India’s 2011 census recorded half a million transgender people but campaigners estimate the number at about 2 million. Less than half are literate and even fewer have jobs, according to the census. Traditionally, transgender people in India have been confined to the margins of society.

Male-to-female “hijras”, the most visible group in the transgender community, feature in Hindu mythology and are seen as auspicious oddities whose blessings are sought at weddings and births.

Male-to-female Hijras are considered auspicious by Hindus. Click To Tweet

This popular perception of transgender people has meant they have struggled to find regular jobs, campaigners said.

But attitudes are slowly starting to change.

“At least 12 to 13 of our member companies already have all-gender bathrooms. This started happening since last year,” said Rashmi Vikram, senior manager with Community Business, a charity that supports firms seeking to be more socially inclusive.

“Some companies have turned the disability restroom to all gender, all-abilities restroom, promoting it in a way that there is no stigma attached to it. It didn’t require a big infrastructural change, but it sent out a positive message.”

BUDDIES AND BENEFITS

A handful of firms have gone beyond ensuring bathroom access.

Global technology firm ThoughtWorks hired a transgender person in its Bangalore office as part of a diversity initiative last year and went on to provide an office buddy and an external counsellor to its new employee to smooth the settling-in period.

And in a first, IBM – named as the world’s most LGBT-inclusive company by Amsterdam-based Workplace Pride Foundation – will from this year cover gender affirmation surgery under its corporate health benefit plan, a spokeswoman for IBM India said.

Another major Indian IT firm that opened a new campus in Mumbai last year ensured at the planning stage it would have a unisex bathroom following requests from transgender employees.

Some firms are also hand-holding transgender staff during the initial employment period and keeping their identities discreet on request, but campaigners say the trend is restricted to big companies.

MANY CHALLENGES

Nyra D’souza, a transgender woman, never took a bathroom break when she worked at a Mumbai outsourcing firm – uncomfortable in the men’s washroom and not allowed in the women’s facility.

It meant holding on for 15 hours before she reached home.

At job interviews, she had been told to consider fashion, beauty or films for a job “where I could be myself”.

But when she was interviewed at Mumbai-headquartered Godrej – a leading Indian conglomerate with interests ranging from consumer goods to real estate – she was asked about her work experience, not gender.

This, a Godrej spokeswoman said, was in tune with the company’s policy to make all interactions gender-neutral.

“Such experiences are limited only to big companies, not small,” said D’souza, who finds others from her community struggling to find jobs, or dignity in the workplace if they do.

After the Supreme Court ruling, campaigners said more companies are coming forward to recruit transgender people, but are reluctant to make adaptations.

“Over the past year, we have got nearly 15 requests from companies that wish to hire a transgender, but they retreat when I ask them about bathroom access,” said Koninika Roy of the Mumbai-based Humsafar Trust that works with the LGBT community and tries to match them with jobs.

The trust had one successful placement in the last year.

But Solidarity Foundation, a Bangalore-based rights group that works with sexual minorities, had more success – it placed 15 transgender people over the last year.

“Companies are becoming more open and talking about these issues, but integration is still not part of their DNA,” said Shubha Chacko, executive director of Solidarity Foundation.

Chacko cited the case of a transgender person detained at the office gate by security guards on his first day at work.

“The biggest challenge in India is the mindset. They connect transgender to people who beg on the streets, do sex work or sing at weddings,” said Vikram of Community Business.

“We still have a long way to go. A lot more work needs to be done.”

(Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)