February 7, 2011: A group of reputed mental health professionals from across India have opposed the criminalization of homosexuality saying that it will result in irreparable psychological and mental harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons.
In 2009 in the Naz Foundation case the Delhi High Court declared that consensual sex between homosexuals would no longer be criminalized under section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This verdict was attacked by several groups and individuals who asked the Supreme Court to strike it down. Thirteen mental health professionals who practice as psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and behavioural psychologists have now submitted a petition, which has been admitted by the Supreme Court, in which they argue that striking down the verdict will greatly harm LGBT persons.
This group of mental health professionals includes the reputed psychiatrist Dr Shekhar Sheshadri from the National Institute for Mental Health Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, which functions under the authority of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. It also includes Dr. Alok Sarin, one of Delhiâ€™s leading psychiatrists who heads psychiatric services at the Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research, and Dr. Vikram Patel who works for Sangath, a mental health organization in Goa and a leading figure in the new movement for global mental health.
The mental health professionals state that in their professional experience they have repeatedly come across instances of LGBT persons who suffer from mental health problems like depression, low sense of self esteem and suicidal tendencies due to the stigma and social isolation fostered by Sec.377 of the IPC. By conveying the message that they are criminals, Sec.377 encouraged discrimination, harassment and abuse of LGBT persons. By forcing them to hide their sexuality, this law caused mental stress and anxiety to LGBT persons.
Through their years of experience in counseling LGBT persons the mental health professionals have realized what an arbitrary and harmful piece of legislation Sec.377 was and wish to use their expertise and experience to help emphasize the importance of the Naz Foundation judgment. The mental health professionals feel that the Delhi High Court order was rooted in a concrete understanding of the mental and psychological harm that Sec.377 inflicts on LGBT persons and that it removed a major source of the stigma and discrimination faced by LGBT persons in India.
The mental health professionals were distressed to note the protests that followed the Delhi High Court order and the range of appeals filed in the Supreme Court against the High Court decision. They feel that the views held by those who have filed these appeals are based on unfounded prejudices and not scientific evidence. They hope the Court will also take into account their views which are based on both scientific knowledge and years of practical experience.
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