India’s Supreme Court yesterday reinstated a colonial-era ban on gay sex that enables the jailing of homosexuals in a major setback for rights campaigners in the world’s biggest democracy. A two-judge bench struck down a landmark Delhi High Court ruling in 2009 which found that section 377 of the Indian penal code prohibiting “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” infringed the fundamental rights of Indians. The decision four years ago to decriminalise gay sex emboldened the still largely closeted homosexual community which has since campaigned publicly against widespread discrimination and ignorance. But the Supreme Court bench, headed by GS Singhvi on his last day before retirement, found the High Court had overstepped its authority and that a law passed by the British in 1860 was still constitutionally valid. “It is up to parliament to legislate on this issue,” Singhvi said in the judgement which crushed the hopes of activists who had fought the case and led to tears outside the court in central New Delhi. The 2009 ruling was strongly opposed by religious groups, particularly leaders of India’s Muslim and Christian communities, who appealed to the Supreme Court and were delighted with yesterday’s outcome. India’s law minister promised to review the ruling, but a new gay rights law that would have limited public support is unlikely to pass the dysfunctional national parliament before general elections next year. Amnesty International called the decision a “body blow to people’s rights to equality, privacy and dignity”, while a legal challenge from gay rights groups is also possible. Gay sex has long been a taboo subject in conservative India, where homophobic tendencies abound and many still regard being gay as a mental illness.