Developments regarding LGBT rights in India and Bangladesh appear to be taking divergent paths within the two neighboring countries. In India, there has been a recent move toward a potentially more open society of social inclusion and increased civil liberties. Particularly, within the last decade there have been calls for the government to abolish Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes same sex relations. Breach of this law can potentially result in a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, although it has rarely been enforced. Despite the scarcity of actual convictions, Section 377 represents a black mark in a modern India, and public support against the law appears to be picking up steam. In response to eight curative petitions filed in 2014 by members of various civil society and LGBT groups, 377 is currently being constitutionally challenged before the Supreme Court. The Court’s decision to review the matter represents potential reform regarding a provision that has been labeled ‘archaic.’ The law was enacted in 1861 while India was still under British colonial rule (therefore 377 itself is indicative of a mindset no longer tolerated in Britain).
While there is still political opposition within the country, political will is clearly growing to repeal what many Indian LGBT activists and liberal politicians see as an unwanted vestige of the nation’s colonial legacy. Discrimination against the LGBT community still abounds in India; however, the change in the political discourse is a welcome one. As more segments of Indian society, and senior politicians call for reform, the chances for a more pluralist and democratic India grow. On the heels of the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision to recognize the existence of hijras, a group from India’s transgender community, the next step is to ensure that homosexuality is no longer a crime. Once again, it appears the ball is in the Court’s end.
In neighboring Bangladesh, the outlook is much more bleak. A great deal has been written in recent days regarding the violence carried out against LGBT activists, in particular, the murder of LGBT magazine editor, Xulhaz Mannan, and a fellow activist. The incident captured international headlines, and shed light on a society shaped by social division, and increased persecution against the LGBT community. This story was just another in a string of atrocities targeted against progressive activists in the country since early 2013. More pressure is being put on Bangladesh’s government to address the situation. Pressure from other countries, and from human rights organizations around the world will only grow in order to induce change in a country where local voices are being brutally silenced.
On balance, in India discrimination is still rampant, and human rights concerns are many. However, as the world’s largest democracy, India has the independent judiciary, and civil society in place in order to more readily improve the lives of its LGBT community. The path to justice within Bangladeshi society continues to be marred by a government that seems unwilling or unable to stop the persecution of progressive voices by extremist groups. This was sadly manifested most recently by Mannan’s murder. The situations in both India and Bangladesh – while different – highlight the ongoing struggle for LGBT rights around the world. Progress is slowly being made, yet setbacks are still occurring every day. In India, despite the chance for imminent change, individual freedoms continue to be suppressed. In Bangladesh, basic human rights continue to be abused. From this corner of south Asia to around the world, much still needs to be done.
Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/06/dispatches-tackling-indias-archaic-lgbt-law
2014 Supreme Court decision: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/transgender-indians-see-key-hindu-festival-a-next-step-toward-inclusion/2016/04/22/7c76e258-0715-11e6-bfed-ef65dff5970d_story.html