As India’s Supreme Court considers whether to hear challenges to a law criminalizing gay sex, one of the nation’s most prominent spiritual leaders is speaking out against the statute.
“It’s an outdated law from the British time,” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, in an interview with The Advocate during his recent visit to the U.S.
And there’s an even greater argument against the law, he said: “Love transcends gender. Love is beyond gender. And attraction is only a reflection of love, it is a shadow of love, and love is divine.”
Section 377 does indeed date to the British colonial era. It specifically prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal,” even between consenting adults, and violation carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The Delhi High Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2009, saying it interfered with several fundamental rights, chiefly the right to equality, the right to freedom from discrimination, and the rights to life and liberty.
But the Indian Supreme Court reinstated it in 2013, saying the lower court had overstepped its bounds and that only Parliament can change the law. Now the court’s chief justice is hearing a petition to strike down Section 377, and Indian celebrities and Western diplomats have joined LGBT activists in seeking an end to the statute.
Shankar is the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, a nonprofit humanitarian and educational organization that has operations around the world. He is no relation to the late, esteemed musician of the same name, except, he pointed out, as a member of the human family; the “Sri Sri” in front of his name is a title of respect used in India. He’s famous in his home nation, well-regarded by many — he’s known as a guru to business executives and politicians. He is also sometimes controversial — he has lately been disputing regulators’ findings about the environmental effects of the foundation’s World Culture Festival, held last March.
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