Homosexuality in India


Although the Supreme Court of India has finally ended the prohibition of homosexuality in India under Section 377, data from opinion polls suggests that societal acceptance may still be a long way off. While the majority of Indians oppose same-sex relationships, their attitudes on homosexuality have softened over time.

The World Values Survey (WVS) is a global survey initiative that has attempted to poll nationally representative samples of people's values and beliefs in approximately 100 nations on a regular basis since 1980. The sample size is small—the India sample in 2014 consisted of just over 1,500 people—but it was said to be demographically representative.

Between 1990 and 2014, the percentage of Indian respondents who stated "homosexuality is never justifiable" in the WVS declined from 89 percent to 24 percent, a significant drop from an overwhelming majority to a small minority. This shift appears to have occurred largely in the absence of judicial challenges to the statute. The most rapid drop in anti-homosexual sentiment occurred in the late 1990s, whereas the Delhi high court's Naz Foundation decision decriminalising gay sex came only in 2009. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, may have seen the writing on the wall.

Countries all across the world are becoming accepting of same-sex couples, requiring the law to play catch-up. (See Figures 1A and 1B.) The WVS places India near the liberal top of the distribution of 60 countries, with 30% of Indian respondents widely supportive of homosexuality in 2014 (the remainder ranging from somewhat opposed to fully opposed). In comparison to India, most emerging countries hold more conservative views on homosexuality.

There are substantially fewer responders in the United States and Western European countries who say homosexuality is not justified. Homosexuality is opposed significantly more strongly in Pakistan and western Asian countries. Opposition to homosexuality is also higher in some other Asian countries, such as China, Singapore, and South Korea, when compared to India.

Another way to get an idea of people's attitudes toward homosexuality is to ask, "Could you name a group that you wouldn't want as neighbours?" In 1991, 91 percent of respondents mentioned homosexuals; in 2014, only 42% of respondents mentioned homosexuals. Unmarried couples, persons of a different religion, and people from a different section of the country were less desirable as neighbours in 2014 than homosexuals, according to survey respondents.

However, this does not imply that many people believe homosexuality is "justifiable," to use the question's problematic phrase. Only 3.5 percent of Indians believe it is "always justifiable," and the majority of Indian opinions are on the anti- rather than pro-side of the debate. In comparison, fewer respondents believed that cheating on taxes or skipping a bus fare was never justified than those who said homosexuality was never justified. 

However, the world's trajectory is clear, and India is no exception. Younger people around the world are more accepting of homosexuality than older people, and gay marriage acceptability has increased dramatically in the Western world. In India, too, there is a broad shift toward more liberal values—according to the CSDS youth survey, more young people now embrace interfaith marriage, affirmative action, and pre-marital dating than they did ten years ago.

Previous Post Next Post