NEW DELHI: Celebrations broke out Thursday as the LGBTQ community and others welcomed the Supreme Court judgment decriminalising consensual gay sex, asserting that the "historic" verdict granted them a basic human right but also acknowledging that complete equality was still some distance away.
A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court unanimously decriminalised part of the 158-year-old colonial law under Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalises consensual unnatural sex, prompting joyous tears, hugs and dancing across the country.
Activists, members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) community, authors and politicians welcomed the verdict -- which also said society cannot dictate a sexual relationship between consenting adults -- with many cutting cakes and unfurling the rainbow flag.
LGBTQ activist Anjali Nazia said the Supreme Court had paved way for bigger judgements ahead.
"We were granted a basic human right today and we can't express just how happy we are," Nazia told PTI.
Describing the verdict as a landmark, Anjan Joshi, member of the Society for People, Awareness, Care and Empowerment (SPACE), said it would be help them in their quest for equality.
"It is a start. We know we have a long way to go in terms of right to adoption, right to marriage but it is a very welcome beginning," Joshi said.
For many activists, this was the harbinger of better days to come.
A member of the gay community who requested anonymity said the decision was long due.
"I have suffered for 10 years because of my sexuality. Hopefully, things will change," he said.
According to Alliance India CEO Sonal Mehta, it is a day of victory for love and law.
"We are finally not criminals and this minuscule minority has an identity now," is how gender and sexuality rights activist Arpit Bhalla put it.
The Congress also put out a Twitter post welcoming the judgement.
"We join the people of India & the LGBTQIA+ community in their victory over prejudice. We welcome the progressive & decisive verdict from the Supreme Court & hope this is the beginning of a more equal & inclusive society," it said, adding intersex and asexuality to LGBTQ.
Expressing his happiness, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said the judgement "shamed" BJP MPs who had opposed him on the issue in the Lok Sabha.
"So pleased to learn that the SupremeCourt has ruled against criminalising sexual acts in private. This decision vindicates my stand on Section 377& on exactly the same grounds of privacy, dignity &constitutional freedoms. It shames those BJP MPs who vociferously opposed me in LS," he tweeted.
Writer Chetan Bhagat said India will survive and thrive only by accepting diversity.
"India is a country where the culture changes every 100km. Accepting diversity has to be the core value of every Indian and frankly is the only way India will survive and thrive. Scrapping #Section377 is a step in that direction. It is a good day for India."
Saying that she was jubilant and emotional, feminist activist Rituparna Borah termed the verdict a stepping stone.
"But there are issues like police violence, right to adoption and marriage that still stay," she told PTI.