The USC Law & Global Health Collaboration hosted a presentation by Anand Grover, renowned Senior Advocate to the Supreme Court of India and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, at USC on Oct. 18.
Grover recently argued the case responsible for the recent decriminalization of homosexual sexual activity in India on Sept. 6. In his presentation, he will discuss the implications of this case for law, global health, sexual health and human rights around the world.
Senior Advocate practicing in the Supreme Court of India, Director of the HIV/AIDS Unit of Lawyer’s Collective (India), and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health (2008-2014)
As an internationally renowned and long-time advocate and activist for HIV and human rights, Anand Grover has argued many cases relating to the rights of people living with HIV, including the first HIV case in India relating to employment law, on sexual diversity, as well as the case that decriminalized consensual same-sex activity in the Delhi High Court that laid the groundwork for the recent Supreme Court decision on the same. Grover has also argued Supreme Court cases relating to women with respect to employment and sexual harassment at the workplace; patent cases to make medicines accessible in India; cases relating to the rights of sex workers and people who use drugs; cases on tobacco use; and cases regarding the death penalty for people who use drugs. He was also appointed the Special Public Prosecutor in the 2G government corruption scandal, the largest public corruption case in India’s history.
This talk was part of the 2018-2019 Global(HEALTH+LAW) Series, hosted by the USC Law & Global Health Collaboration, supported by the USC Collaboration Fund.
Conversation with Anand Grover:
Anand Grover’s Lecture
Anand Grover expressed his delight at being invited to this event by the Law and Global Health Collaboration, gratitude for the faculty and staff at the USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health and noting Prof. Sofia Gruskin’s contributions to the field of global health, law and to his work.
Mr. Grover began by providing some context for his talk—elaborating on the history of Section 377 in the Indian Penal Code which criminalized homosexuality, as it was introduced by the British colonizers. As per the British culture at the time, homosexuality was considered to be a sin and because of this, despite every other section of the Indian Penal Code having an explanation attached, section 377 even as it was inserted into the Code had none as homosexuality was not something that could be discussed. Previously countries in Asia had not criminalized sexual behavior. Additionally, Grove explained that one can find various mentions of transgender individuals in ancient texts.
Jumping ahead to present day India, Grover began discussing the recent judgment by the Supreme Court of India, calling September 6th, 2018—the day the decision to decriminalize consensual, homosexual sexual activity was announced—the “day of the 2nd freedom.” Grover expressed that he was proud to have contributed as a Senior Advocate as he had not been certain that he would see the day when section 377 was overturned. Going into the specific language of 377 around sex, Grover explained the use of “voluntary carnal intercourse” in the Code to describe sex that is not intended to result in procreation and is therefore “against the order of nature.”
Grover provided some information about the trajectory of his career in pursuing equality under the law and in global health. When HIV arrived in India in 1986, he was given the opportunity to represent a person living with HIV, and immediately realized the innate stigma attached to the disease including some of his own pre-conceived notions. Over the years Grover has represented many people living with HIV, but one case stands out in particular. In 1997, he successfully represented the right to employment for a person living with HIV so long as they are functionally fit to carry out the work. This judgment was groundbreaking and the approach he championed was later recognized by courts in South Africa and in other places helping to make their laws more progressive.
Grover then elaborated on his part in the fight for the abolition of Section 377 over the years, naming some of the landmark cases that ultimately led to success. Earlier in his career, he was approached by several gay men wanting protection against harassment from police. He was able to trace the source of this harassment to the letter of the law and filed the first petition challenging the constitutionality of Section 377 in 2001. It was not until 2009 that the Delhi High Court ruled in favor of decriminalizing same-sex behavior, and did so on the basis of the principles of equality, non-discrimination and concerns over privacy while also referring to the need for an inclusive and pluralistic society. The High Court ruling was challenged in the Supreme Court which overruled the decision citing the small number of “such people” in the country as the basis for doing so.
Immediately following this decision, petitions for review of Section 377 were submitted and finally, on September 6th of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 377 was unconstitutional, citing nearly identical reasoning to that of the previous ruling by the Delhi High Court that had been overturned nearly a decade earlier. Section 377 was said to violate principles of equality, non-discrimination, and concerns over privacy, principles of dignity, some aspects of public morality, autonomy, self-determination, and constitutional morality, while also referring to the need for an inclusive and pluralistic society. Grover noted this was a success but that there is still a long way to go to guarantee the health and rights of LGBT populations in India and across the globe.
Q & A
Audience members asked questions regarding the role of the judgment of the Supreme Court of India in changing perceptions around homosexuality in Indian society, the scope of challenging other laws across the world on the basis of this judgment, and about his work in the pharmaceutical sector especially for access to medication. Grover emphasized that there are similar fights being fought across the globe and suggested that audience members might look at the Global Health and Human Rights Database a free online database of law from around the world that offers an interactive, searchable, and fully indexed website of case law, national constitutions and international instruments, and that each of these battles may seem impossible until the very moment that they succeed.
The USC Law and Global Health Collaboration would like to sincerely thank Anand Grover for his valuable insights and for contributing his time and expertise to our event.