Author: Mamatha A G, a student at CMR University School of Legal Studies


“There is nothing wrong with you. There’s a lot wrong with the world you live in”

 – Chris Colfer

The recognition and protection of LGBTQ+ rights have emerged as significant social and legal issues worldwide, challenging longstanding norms and fostering debates on inclusivity, equality, and human rights. In India, societal stigma surrounding sexuality profoundly impacts LGBTQ+ individuals, often treating their identities as taboo and threatening their survival.[1] Despite constitutional safeguards ensuring equality and personal liberty, LGBTQ+ individuals face persistent discrimination and marginalization. The 2018 landmark judgment in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India [2] decriminalized homosexuality, marking a pivotal step towards acceptance. However, resistance from influential groups like the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board [3] and certain Brahmin groups highlights the ongoing challenges to achieving full equality.

At this critical juncture, the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) legislative proposal seeks to reform the Indian Penal Code. While aiming to modernize the legal framework, its potential impact on LGBTQ+ inclusion is under intense scrutiny. This article critically examines the BNS, revealing its shortcomings in addressing LGBTQ+ exclusion and highlighting the discrepancies between legal reforms and the lived realities of LGBTQ+ individuals in India. By analyzing societal context, legal frameworks, and cultural attitudes, this article seeks to illuminate the gap between legislative intent and the principles of equality and human dignity for LGBTQ+ individuals.


The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), introduced in 2023, aims to modernize India’s criminal legislation, replacing the colonial-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860. A notable change in the BNS is the omission of Section 377, which historically criminalized “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” a law often used to persecute LGBTQ+ individuals.

The LGBTQ+ rights movement in India has faced significant challenges, including societal stigma and legal barriers. Key judicial rulings have begun to change this landscape. In 2014, the Supreme Court’s decision in National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) v. Union of India [4] recognized transgender individuals as a third gender, granting them legal protections and rights. The 2018 Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India judgment decriminalized consensual same-sex relations by striking down Section 377, affirming the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals.

The BNS represents a crucial step towards decriminalizing same-sex relations and promoting LGBTQ+ rights. By modernizing the legal framework and eliminating discriminatory provisions, the BNS has the potential to ensure equal protection under the law for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, reflecting evolving societal attitudes and aligning with global trends towards equality and human rights.


  • Clause 38: Right to Self-defense

Ambiguous Terminology:

The term “unnatural lust” is not clearly defined within the BNS, creating ambiguity that can lead to significant legal misinterpretations. Historically, this term has been used to criminalize and stigmatize LGBTQ+ individuals, equating their consensual sexual behaviors with perverse or criminal acts. The lack of a clear, objective definition can perpetuate these prejudices, allowing the clause to be misapplied against LGBTQ+ individuals, framing their consensual activities as threats justifying severe harm.

Potential for Misuse:

Due to the ambiguous nature of “unnatural lust,” this clause could be weaponized to justify violence against LGBTQ+ individuals under the pretense of self-defense. For instance, an attacker might claim self-defense if they believe an LGBTQ+ individual made advances towards them, regardless of whether those advances were consensual or even occurred. This potential misuse not only endangers LGBTQ+ individuals but also perpetuates societal stigma and discrimination against them.

  • Clauses 63 and 64: Definition and Punishment of Rape

Exclusion of LGBTQ+ Individuals:

The definitions provided in Clauses 63 and 64 of the BNS are limited to sexual assaults perpetrated against cisgender women, thereby excluding men and transgender individuals from legal protections against rape. This gender-specific language fails to acknowledge that sexual violence can and does affect individuals of all genders. As a result, LGBTQ+ individuals who experience sexual violence may find themselves without the legal recourse or protections that cisgender women are afforded.

Lack of Inclusivity:

Modern legal frameworks increasingly advocate for gender-neutral definitions of sexual violence to ensure comprehensive protection for all individuals, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. By not adopting such inclusive definitions, the BNS overlooks the varied experiences of sexual violence faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. This oversight not only denies justice to these individuals but also reinforces harmful societal norms that marginalize and silence their experiences.

  • Clauses 75 and 76: Criminal Force and Voyeurism

Inconsistent Approach:

Clauses 75 and 76 of the BNS introduce gender-neutral language when defining perpetrators of sexual violence, recognizing that individuals of any gender can commit such acts. However, these clauses maintain gender specificity when it comes to victims, only acknowledging cisgender women as potential victims of criminal force and voyeurism.

  • Exclusion of LGBTQ+ Language and Protections:

The BNS fails to explicitly mention the LGBTQ+ community, with terms like “transgender” only appearing as an “illustration” in Clause 2, ignoring previous legislative progress like the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, and the Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India ruling on gay rights. This omission signals a disregard for LGBTQ+ rights, perpetuating their invisibility and undermining efforts for equality and protection under the law. This inconsistency undermines the principle of equal protection under the law.

  • Impact of Historical Exclusion:

In Priya Patel v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2006) [5], the gender-specific definition of rape under Section 375 of the IPC excludes LGBTQ+ individuals from legal protection against sexual violence. This narrow interpretation limits rape to acts by men against women, marginalizing LGBTQ+ victims. By maintaining such definitions and failing to update legal language, the BNS continues to deny justice to LGBTQ+ individuals and reinforces harmful stereotypes.


National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) v. Union of India (2014):

This landmark judgment mandated the legal recognition of transgender individuals, affirming their fundamental rights and protections under the law. The Supreme Court of India emphasized the need for a gender-neutral legal framework to ensure that transgender individuals receive equal protection and are not discriminated against due to their gender identity. The judgment directed the government to take affirmative action for their social and economic inclusion.

Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018):

In this historic ruling, the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality by reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which previously criminalized consensual same-sex relations. The judgment recognized the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ individuals to dignity, privacy, and equality, underscoring the importance of removing discriminatory laws that perpetuate stigma and marginalization against the LGBTQ+ community.

Priya Patel v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2006):

This case highlighted the gender-specific definition of rape under Section 375 of the IPC, which limited the offense to acts committed by men against women. The exclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals from legal protection against sexual violence pointed to the necessity of adopting gender-neutral definitions. The case underscored the need for comprehensive legal protection for all individuals, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Supriyo v. Union of India (2023):[6]

This judgment brought attention to the lack of legal recognition for same-sex couples in India. The Supreme Court noted significant gaps in the existing legal framework, including the BNS proposal, which failed to acknowledge and protect diverse family structures. The judgment called for inclusive legal reforms that recognize and safeguard the rights of same-sex couples, including in matters of marriage, adoption, and inheritance.


To ensure that the BNS is truly inclusive and protective of all individuals, the following reforms are recommended:

  • Adoption of Gender-Neutral Language: The BNS should adopt gender-neutral language throughout its provisions to ensure that all individuals, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation, are equally protected under the law.
  • Explicit Inclusion of LGBTQ+ Protections: The BNS should explicitly include protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, recognizing their unique vulnerabilities and ensuring their legal rights are upheld.
  • Alignment with International Human Rights Standards: The BNS should align with international human rights standards, incorporating principles from conventions such as the Yogyakarta Principles, which outline comprehensive human rights standards for sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Laws: The BNS should incorporate comprehensive anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of life, including employment, education, and public services.
  • Training and Sensitization: Legal professionals, law enforcement officers, and the judiciary should undergo training and sensitization programs to better understand and uphold LGBTQ+ rights, ensuring fair and unbiased legal processes.


The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) aims to modernize India’s criminal laws, but it notably fails to address the rights and protections of LGBTQ+ individuals adequately. Despite significant judicial advancements such as the decriminalization of homosexuality and the recognition of transgender rights, the BNS does not reflect these progressive strides. Clauses within the BNS, such as those pertaining to self-defense and the definition of rape, use ambiguous and gender-specific language that risks perpetuating discrimination and excluding LGBTQ+ individuals from necessary legal protections.

To achieve genuine equality and justice, the BNS must incorporate gender-neutral terminology and explicit safeguards for LGBTQ+ rights, aligning with modern legal frameworks and international human rights standards. Historical exclusions, such as the gender-specific definition of rape, underscore the urgency for comprehensive and inclusive legal reforms.

In conclusion, while the BNS represents a step towards updating India’s criminal legislation, it must fully embrace inclusivity and equality to protect the rights and dignity of all citizens. Addressing these legislative blind spots is essential for fostering a legal system that truly upholds justice and human rights for everyone.


1 Anuja Hiren Shah, Recognizing the Existence: Analyzing the Rights of LGBTQ Community in India, 5 INT’l J.L. MGMT. & HUMAN. 788 (2022

2 AIR 2018 SC 4321

3 BINA FERNANDEZ, Humjinsi: A resource book on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual rights in India (2d ed, Indian center for human rights and law) 

4 NALSA vs. Union of India (2014) 5 SCC 438

5 Priya Patel Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh (2006) 6 SCC 263

6 Supriyo v. Union of India W.P.(C) No. 1011/2022 Diary No. 36593/2022


Q: How does societal stigma affect LGBTQ+ individuals in India?

A: Societal stigma in India treats LGBTQ+ identities as taboo, leading to discrimination, marginalization, violence, and mental health issues. This stigma severely impacts their quality of life and access to basic rights and services.

Q: Why is the exclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals from the definitions of rape in Clauses 63 and 64 problematic?

A: The exclusion is problematic because it fails to acknowledge that sexual violence can affect individuals of all genders, leaving men and transgender individuals without legal protections against rape, thereby denying them justice and reinforcing harmful stereotypes.

Q: What international human rights standards should the BNS align with?

A: The BNS should align with standards such as the Yogyakarta Principles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provide comprehensive protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Q: How can legal reforms be made more inclusive for LGBTQ+ individuals?

A: Legal reforms can be more inclusive by adopting gender-neutral language, explicitly including protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, aligning with international human rights standards, and ensuring comprehensive anti-discrimination laws.

Q: Why are comprehensive anti-discrimination laws important for LGBTQ+ individuals?

A: Comprehensive anti-discrimination laws are important because they protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination in various aspects of life, such as employment, education, and public services, promoting a more inclusive and equitable society.

Q: What is the impact of Clause 38 on LGBTQ+ individuals?

A: Clause 38’s ambiguous term “unnatural lust” can be misinterpreted to justify violence against LGBTQ+ individuals under the guise of self-defense, perpetuating discrimination and endangering their safety.


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