Is the British government ignoring gay rights in India for trade?

It would appear that way from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's mealy-mouthed response to the effective criminalisation of homosexuality in India.

David Cameron has in the past been accused of behaving like a travelling salesman due to his penchant for visiting countries with questionable human rights records to do arms deals.

Last year Cameron visited the Gulf with the aim of selling British-made fighter jets. At the time he was open about the government’s desire to sell weapons to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman, which he said had “a right to defend themselves”.

In other words, any human rights concerns (and there are no shortage of them in terms of the aforementioned governments) would take a back seat to the business interests of the British arms industry. The government did not even try to pretend otherwise.

It isn’t only the interests of arms companies that appear to trump human rights, however. It now appears that criticism of human rights abuses must be muted if there is even the remotest prospect of awkward questions damaging ‘British interests’.

What other explanation is there for the fact that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) cannot bring itself even to so much as condemn a Supreme Court ruling in India which has effectively criminalised homosexuality?

As reported by Pink News yesterday evening, the FCO offered a curt and unsympathetic response when asked by the website how it would be responding to the Indian Surpreme Court decision, saying only that “The actions of India’s Supreme Court are a matter for India.”

In other words, India may treat its gay citizens as abominably as it wishes.

Section 377 of India’s penal code makes ‘sex against the order of nature’ illegal, this being widely interpreted to mean gay sex. Breaking the law can result in as long as 10 years in jail. The ruling by the Supreme Court overturned a 2009 decision by the Dehli High Court which had legalised homosexual activity.

As Pink News points out, the tame response of the FCO to the Indian Supreme Court’s decision is very much at odds with previous statements about the gay rights situation in Russia, when it issued the following statement:

“It is of great concern that Russia has passed a law which imposes fines for the promotion of ‘non-traditional’ sexual relations.”

So why the double standard?

I don’t suppose it has anything to do with the fact that Vince Cable and a delegation of 25 British companies are currently in India on a four-day visit for talks with the country’s ‘captains of industry’?

It is known that David Cameron wants to significantly increase British trade with India, declaring earlier this year that Britain and India can forge one of “the great partnerships of the 21st century”.

Considering India is one of the world’s emerging economic powerhouses, the desire to build a good relationship with the country is forgivable. What isn’t is sacrificing the rights of the country’s gay population out of a misplaced desire not to rock the boat.

Statements like this from the F&C Office will do little to burnish the image of Cameron the amoral travelling salesman.

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