Volume 37 Number 5
Published: October 1, 2006
There is a wide spectrum of sexual acts, practices and identities worldwide. The existing language of sexual rights has emerged largely in relation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. In turn, this language seems to cater primarily to LGBT or similar such identities. Heterosexuals may be excluded, as well as indigenous same sex practising or transgender people who do not identify as LGBT, such as the hijras of South Asia. The challenge is to make human rights accessible to all. There is therefore a need to expand the human rights discourse beyond narrow notions of identities, to secure a firm foundation for sexual rights. The author takes the example of the British colonial law, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, which makes illegal ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. This law remains in force in India and is a source of constant human rights violations. Although a literal reading of the law does not explicitly condemn any particular sexual identity, homosexual or heterosexual, in effect it criminalises all forms of consensual same sex sexual activity. Due to its own lack of focus on identities, Section 377 is a fitting test case for a broader and newly proposed human right: the right to sexual autonomy.