WP(c) No.7455/2001. Case: Naz Foundation Vs Government of NCT of Delhi and Others. High Court of Delhi (India)

Case NumberWP(c) No.7455/2001
CounselFor Petitioner: Anand Grover, Sr. Counsel with Trideep Pais, Ms. Shivangi Rai, Ms. Mehak Sothi and Ms. Tripti Tandon, Advs. and For Respondets: P.P. Malhotra, ASG with Chetan Chawla, for UOI; Ms. Mukta Gupta, S.C. (Crl.) with Gaurav Sharma and Shankar Chhabra, for GNCT of Delhi; Ravi Shankar Kumar with Ashutosh Dubey (for No. 6), Joint Action ...
JudgesAjit Prakash Shah, C.J. and S.Muralidhar, J.
IssueIndian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) - Sections 293, 366, 377, 497, 375 to 376(E); Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973; Indian Evidence Act, 1872; Constitution of India - Articles 21, 14, 15 Buggery Act, 1533; Sexual Offences Act, 1967; The Criminal Tribes Act, 1871; Punjab Excise Act, 1914 - Section 30; Tasmanian Criminal Code - section 122, 123;
Citation2010 CriLJ 94, 2009 (160) DLT 277
Judgement DateJuly 02, 2009
CourtHigh Court of Delhi (India)


Ajit Prakash Shah, C.J.

1. This writ petition has been preferred by Naz Foundation, a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) as a Public Interest Litigation to challenge the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), which criminally penalizes what is described as "unnatural offences", to the extent the said provision criminalises consensual sexual acts between adults in private. The challenge is founded on the plea that Section 377 IPC, on account of it covering sexual acts between consenting adults in private infringes the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 15, 19 & 21 of the Constitution of India. Limiting their plea, the petitioners submit that Section 377 IPC should apply only to non-consensual penile non-vaginal sex and penile nonvaginal sex involving minors. The Union of India is impleaded as respondent No.5 through Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. Respondent No.4 is the National Aids Control Organisation (hereinafter referred to as "NACO") a body formed under the aegis of Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India. NACO is charged with formulating and implementing policies for the prevention of HIV/AIDS in India. Respondent No.3 is the Delhi State Aids Control Society. Respondent No.2 is the Commissioner of Police, Delhi. Respondents No.6 to 8 are individuals and NGOs, who were permitted to intervene on their request. The writ petition was dismissed by this Court in 2004 on the ground that there is no cause of action in favour of the petitioner and that such a petition cannot be entertained to examine the academic challenge to the constitutionality of the legislation. The Supreme Court vide order dated 03.02.2006 in Civil Appeal No.952/2006 set aside the said order of this Court observing that the matter does require consideration and is not of a nature which could have been dismissed on the aforesaid ground. The matter was remitted to this Court for fresh decision.


2. At the core of the controversy involved here is the penal provision Section 377 IPC which criminalizes sex other than heterosexual penile-vaginal. The legislative history of the subject indicates that the first records of sodomy as a crime at Common Law in England were chronicled in the Fleta, 1290, and later in the Britton, 1300. Both texts prescribed that sodomites should be burnt alive. Acts of sodomy later became penalized by hanging under the Buggery Act of 1533 which was re-enacted in 1563 by Queen Elizabeth I, after which it became the charter for the subsequent criminalisation of sodomy in the British Colonies. Oralgenital sexual acts were later removed from the definition of buggery in 1817. And in 1861, the death penalty for buggery was formally abolished in England and Wales. However, sodomy or buggery remained as a crime "not to be mentioned by Christians."

3. Indian Penal Code was drafted by Lord Macaulay and introduced in 1861 in British India. Section 377 IPC is contained in Chapter XVI of the IPC titled "Of Offences Affecting the Human Body". Within this Chapter Section 377 IPC is categorised under the sub-chapter titled "Of Unnatural Offences" and reads as follows:

"377. Unnatural Offences - Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation - Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section."

4. The marginal note refers to the acts proscribed as "unnatural offences". This expression, however, is not used in the text of Section 377 IPC. The expression "carnal intercourse" is used in Section 377 IPC as distinct from the expression "sexual intercourse", which appears in Sections 375 and 497 IPC. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary (ninth edition, 1995), the term "carnal" means "of the body or flesh; worldly" and "sensual, sexual". Consent is no defence to an offence under Section 377 IPC and no distinction regarding age is made in the section. In Khanu v. Emperor, AIR 1925 Sind 286, Kennedy A.J.C. held that "section 377 IPC punishes certain persons who have carnal intercourse against the order of nature with inter alia human beings.... [if the oral sex committed in this case is carnal intercourse], it is clearly against the order of nature, because the natural object of carnal intercourse is that there should be the possibility of conception of human beings, which in the case of coitus per os is impossible."[page 286] It appears that the courts had earlier held in R. V. Jacobs (1817) Russ & Ry 331 C.C.R., and Govindarajula In re., (1886) 1 Weir 382, that inserting the penis in the mouth would not amount to an offence under Section 377 IPC. Later, Section 377 IPC has been interpreted to cover oral sex, anal sex and penetration of other orifices. In Lohana Vasantlal Devchand v. State, AIR 1968 Guj 252, the issue was whether oral sex amounted to an offence under Section 377 IPC. It was held that the "orifice of the mouth is not, according to nature, meant for sexual or carnal intercourse." In Calvin Francis v. Orissa, 1992 (2) Crimes 455, relying on Lohana, it was held that oral sex fell within the ambit of Section 377 IPC. The Court used the references to the Corpus Juris Secundum relating to sexual perversity and abnormal sexual satisfaction as the guiding criteria. In Fazal Rab Choudhary v. State of Bihar, AIR 1983 SC 323, it was observed that Section 377 IPC implied "sexual perversity". It is evident that the tests for attracting the penal provisions have changed from the non-procreative to imitative to sexual perversity.

5. The English law was reformed in Britain by the Sexual Offences Act, 1967, which de-criminalised homosexuality and acts of sodomy between consenting adults (above age of 21) pursuant to the report of Wolfenden Committee. The Committee advising the Parliament had recommended in 1957 repeal of laws punishing homosexual conduct.


6. The petitioner NGO has been working in the field of HIV/AIDS Intervention and prevention. This necessarily involves interaction with such sections of society as are vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS and which include gay community or individuals described as "men who have sex with men" (MSM). For sake of convenient reference, they would hereinafter be referred to as "homosexuals" or "gay" persons or gay community. Homosexuals, according to the petitioner, represent a population segment that is extremely vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection. The petitioner claims to have been impelled to bring this litigation in public interest on the ground that HIV/AIDS prevention efforts were found to be severely impaired by discriminatory attitudes exhibited by state agencies towards gay community, MSM or trans-gendered individuals, under the cover of enforcement of Section 377 IPC, as a result of which basic fundamental human rights of such individuals/groups (in minority) stood denied and they were subjected to abuse, harassment, assault from public and public authorities.

7. According to the petitioner, Section 377 IPC is based upon traditional Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards, which conceive of sex in purely functional terms, i.e., for the purpose of procreation only. Any non-procreative sexual activity is thus viewed as being "against the order of nature". The submission is that the legislation criminalising consensual oral and anal sex is outdated and has no place in modern society. In fact, studies of Section 377 IPC jurisprudence reveal that lately it has generally been employed in cases of child sexual assault and abuse. By criminalising private, consensual same-sex conduct, Section 377 IPC serves as the weapon for police abuse; detaining and questioning, extortion, harassment, forced sex, payment of hush money; and perpetuates negative and discriminatory beliefs towards same-sex relations and sexuality minorities; which consequently drive the activities of gay men and MSM, as well as sexuality minorities underground thereby crippling HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. Section 377 IPC thus creates a class of vulnerable people that is continually victimised and directly affected by the provision. It has been submitted that the fields of psychiatry and psychology no longer treat homosexuality as a disease and regard sexual orientation to be a deeply held, core part of the identities of individuals.

8. The petitioner submits that while right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty and guaranteed to the citizens, in order to be meaningful, the pursuit of happiness encompassed within the concepts of privacy, human dignity, individual autonomy and the human need for an intimate personal sphere require that privacy -- dignity claim concerning private, consensual, sexual relations are also afforded protection within the ambit of the said fundamental right to life and liberty given under Article 21. It is averred that no aspect of one''s life may be said to be more private or intimate than that of sexual relations, and since private, consensual, sexual relations or sexual preferences figure prominently within an individual''s personality and lie easily at the core of the "private space", they are an inalienable component of the right of life. Based on this line of reasoning, a case has been made to the effect that the prohibition of certain private, consensual sexual relations (homosexual) provided by Section 377 IPC unreasonably abridges the right of privacy and dignity within the ambit of right to life and liberty under Article 21. The petitioner argues that fundamental right to privacy under Article 21 can be abridged only for a compelling state interest which, in its submission, is amiss here. Also based on the...

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