08/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Baba Ramdev, Yoga Guru, Challenges Gay Verdict In Indian Supreme Court

By Varun Bubber

It's been less than a week since the Delhi High Court abolished Section 377 of India's Penal Code, decriminalizing consensual sexual intercourse between homosexuals. Ever since, the historic verdict has created waves in Indian society, invoking joy and relief among the nation's embattled gay community and its supporters, and outrage from several sections, including religious and moral leaders, as well as some politicians.

Yoga a Cure for Homosexuality?

Most recently, an influential yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, has filed a petition in India's Supreme Court demanding that High Court's verdict be struck down, claiming that "homosexuality is a disease that is curable" and that [the] "right to privacy as a facet of right to life cannot include the right to enjoy deviant sexual preferences and sexual behaviour."

An ardent proponent of ancient Hindu techniques like yoga and herbal medicine, Baba Ramdev commands a massive following in India, claiming over 2 million followers (including several key politicians and celebrities) and presiding over televised "yoga camps" that attract over 20,000 participants and millions of viewers. The West's recent interest in yoga notwithstanding, Baba Ramdev is widely credited with reviving the practice of yoga in a nation that is growing increasingly apathetic towards ancient traditions.

Religious Rage

The Baba's legal move comes after religious leaders from several faiths condemned the High Court's decision in the media, with the Catholic Church being particularly vocal in its dissent.

Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), said recently that Indian Christians were in "greater danger" of being lured by the "glamour of the gay world" and were in "imminent risk of getting drawn into vice and sin, as homosexuality is forbidden by the Church." He called for the Central Government to appeal in India's Supreme Court, echoing demands by the leading Islamic organizations in India.

Politically Correct

And while the bulk of India's political establishment has remained guarded in its reaction to the verdict, the notoriously outspoken Member of Parliament and Ex-Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, has demanded that the central government appeal the judgement in the Supreme Court, saying that "some people may like or consent to these things, but these things are not acceptable in our society" and "[homosexuality is] a crime... Such obscene acts should not be allowed in our country. The society is adversely affected." Yadav has also threatened to raise the matter in India's Parliament, which may force the government to take a stand.

A Queer Future

The Delhi High Court, however, seems to have anticipated such morality-based appeals, and the judgement appears to pre-emptively counter them. "Moral indignation, howsoever strong, is not a valid basis for overriding individuals' fundamental rights of dignity and privacy. In our scheme of things Constitutional morality must outweigh the argument of public morality, even if it be the majoritarian view," wrote the two-judge panel of Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S Muralidhar. So for now at least, the striking down of Section 377, this first, crucial step in the gay rights movement in India, remains safe, buffered against the storm of public outrage that is coming its way.

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