You’ve got (Black)mail: How the LGBT community in India are exploited

Published: April 10, 2015
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A 31-year-old gay man in Mumbai named Rajan was surreptitiously followed into a men’s bathroom by two strangers and coerced into performing oral sex on both of them. PHOTO: AFP

It is a well-known fact that many people who identify with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in India are walking a very fine line – be true to who he/she really is while also maintaining a cautious approach of how that comes across in day to day life. It is unfortunate that such people are held under a microscope with every single action of theirs being analysed and dissected by society, and most recently, for nefarious gains.

A 31-year-old gay man in Mumbai named Rajan was surreptitiously followed into a men’s bathroom by two strangers and coerced into performing oral sex on both of them. The act was recorded. The men then demanded that Rajan take them to a nearby ATM to withdraw his savings of Rs15,000 and if he refused, they would report the sexual encounter to the police.

“They knew I was gay. They were watching me and waiting… Even though society has not fully accepted us, the law was there to protect us. But now we are scared,” Rajan had told reporters.

Sadly, this is becoming a familiar narrative these days amongst the LGBT community in India – a country that boasts of the largest worldwide democracy. It is something that has many activists frustrated.

Sonal Giani, an advocacy manager at the Humsafar Trust, a Mumbai-based charity which works for LGBT rights, said,

“What is becoming increasingly common are gangs whose modus operandi is to befriend victims on gay dating sites, meet them in a hotel room, get them naked and take compromising pictures of them. These gangs threaten to report them to the police if they don’t give them money. They often beat and sexually abuse the victims … but the victims are so scared that they generally don’t tell anyone.”

In another incident, reported by the Coalition for Sex Workers and Sexuality Minority Rights, a physician unknowingly entered into a staged relationship with two men who documented their sexual encounter and extorted 1.3 million rupees from him. The local authorities were clued in on what transpired but arrested the victim, adding insult to injury. According to organisations similar to Humsafar Trust, LGBT abuses have just about tripled in the last year, with Giani disclosing 500 reports of abuse of LGBT people in the states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat just last year.

The principal reason behind this atrocious behaviour stems from the fact that India maintains ‘Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code’ which criminalises sexual activities “against the order of nature”, arguably including homosexual acts. This 2013 ruling overturned the 2009 Delhi High Court verdict which resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexual acts involving consenting adults all throughout India.

Amitava Sarkar, a transgender activist from the India’s HIV/AIDS Alliance says,

“The ruling has turned the clock back. Britain, the country that imposed the law in India, has moved on and now permits same sex marriage, yet we, in India, are still living with this archaic law.”

Recently in March, India expressed support for the Russian proposal revoking of same-sex rights of UN staff members, joining other nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran and even Iraq, all of which are egregious for their human rights violations. The resolution failed to pass but offered keen insight into where India’s murky stance on LGBT rights truly lies.

Anjali Gopalan, director of the Naz Foundation, an NGO that focuses on HIV/AIDS and sexual health, said,

“This shows how homophobic the politicians in our country are. The Indian government could have shown that they are progressive and that they support equality, but they did not.”

It is incredibly disheartening to see that there are malicious minded individuals who are using this law as an opportunity to exploit unwitting homosexual individuals for money and personal gain, and getting away with the act by pinning it directly onto the victim who is then handed a 10-year jail sentence. It is shameful that consenting individuals are not able to consummate their love physically if they choose to. The current, intimidating, state of affairs are such that even holding hands, riding a scooter together or, dare I say, getting married draws ire, scorn and stares from people creating this tense environment. To me, the best analogy to explain what this law has done is to compare it to someone sitting and going through the menu at their favourite restaurant but has been forbidden from ordering an actual meal.

Something like this would not happen in America, and it definitely should not be happening in India or anywhere for that matter – it is 2015 not 1520. Since time immemorial, India has been known for its tolerance, diversity (cultural and religious) and equality. We need to reassert this ethos and lead in the fight for dignity, respect and equality for all.

LGBT issues must be brought into the limelight. They must make it to the front-page of mainstream publications and social media should be bombarded so the concerned individuals have to pay attention. Such archaic laws are not going to disappear on their own and neither will they help anybody. We need to work together to gain enough traction to get those in power to make things right.

Krishan Jeyarajasingham

Krishan Jeyarajasingham

The author is a MD who is currently in transition to move to Australia to practice, and is interested in medicine, global health, LGBT rights, education and poverty alleviation. The author tweets @Krishanjeyam (twitter.com/KrishanJeyam)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Critical

    I was outraged when India decided to vote against same sex marriage..and some of them pride themselves saying that Hinduism is the only religion which tolerated gays but the behavior of current RSS,VHP goes entirely opposite to what they preach….

    Honestly,the subjugation of homosexuals might be the only thing both Hindu and muslim extremists agree upon….

    But keep courage,because the silent majority in our country isnt that silent nowadays…Hope a day will come when these gays can live life with dignity….

    FYI…to other readers,stop quoting verses from scriptures to justify ur hatred of gays….Recommend

  • wb

    These ugly laws were introduced to India by the British.

    Hinduism has always accepted various sexuality starting from our mythology.

    BJP government will not do anything to help this tortured community. The bigots in the BJP government have forgotten their own roots and how Hinduism has been absolutely open when it comes to sexuality. Their Hinduism is all limited to rituals, traditions and most importantly superstitions.

    It’s not ironic that the conservative Christians and Muslims (all Muslims are conservative. some less, some more) support BJP in this regard.

    We have to wait for the pseudo-secular Congress to come again to abrogate these unnatural, inhumane and beastly laws.Recommend

  • Rahul

    I think the author has not understood the real issue here. Section 377 of the IPC has long been a dead law. Nobody has ever been prosecuted under Section 377. In overturning the DHC decision on section 377 the Supreme court of India was merely making the statement that Laws should be made or revoked by the legislature and not by courts. The real reason that gay people open themselves for blackmail is that they want to maintain an outward appearance of heterosexuality, marry a woman to please the parents and maintain a façade while answering anonymous ads and having encounters on the side. Certain unsavory characters have become aware of this double life gay people are leading and have started placing ads to shake them down. This may have involvement from the cops too. In America and the west, gay people were in the closet because of institutional persecution, In India they are in the closet because of social pressure and this has nothing to do with section 377.Recommend

  • JackZFlipper

    Good thing you posted this article on a site belonging to a cult and a country most accepting to LGBT issues. :))Recommend

  • Hypocrisy?

    “These ugly laws were introduced to India by the British.”
    As were the blasphemy laws in Pak. but you would be the first to hypocritically claim that the anti-blasphemy Pak laws are Islamic but the anti-homosexuality Indian laws are not influenced by Hindu culture…Recommend

  • Headstrong

    Ah. The virtues of hypocrisy! You must ask these guys of the plight of children (of both sexes) in Peshawar. ET had reported a month ago that 1 in 5 children are victims of paedophiles.

    When living in glasshouses…..Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Apples and Oranges. India and Pakistan had the same blasphemy laws at the time of independence, which were made more stringent in Pakistan, adding the death penalty – in India, they still remain unchanged, so we can definitely say that Pakistan’s increasing Islamization is responsible for the change. On the other hand, Section 377 of the IPC remains unchanged – so your claim is valid only if the British were influenced by Hindu culture.Recommend

  • wb

    Like I have said a number of times, logic and Pakistanis just don’t mix. Like light and darkness.

    The laws against homosexuals has got nothing to do with religion. I made that reference and that reference doesn’t exist in constitution.

    But blasphemy laws are directly related to religion.

    And if you think blasphemy laws are not Islamic, then get rid of them. I’ll promise you that you’ll eat more bullets than Salman Taseer did. And all these bullets will have the blessings of your Ulema.Recommend

  • Hypocrisy?

    It seems wb really does have a poor understanding not only of Islam
    but of Hinduism as well as well as the politics surrounding them both.

    “the laws against homosexuals has got nothing to do with religion.”
    “Hinduism has always accepted various sexuality starting from our mythology.”

    This claim of yours is directly contradicted by RSS and BJP statements regardless of what you personally think of Hinduism.
    http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-12-16/news/45256342_1_homosexuality-issue-rss-leader-ram-madhav-all-party-meetingRecommend

  • Rana Eddy

    “This claim of yours is directly contradicted by RSS and BJP statements regardless of what you personally think of Hinduism.””
    But those claims are right, you would do well if you study history.Recommend

  • Hypocrisy?

    “But those are statements right”

    Once again even if it is true, that is not what the RSS believe,
    ” Earlier, BJP and RSS had been silent about their stand on the issue till Singh said yesterday that homosexuality is unnatural.”

    I am not saying its not true, I am saying this is what the Hindu religious leaders believe. Why are Hindu nationalist parties agitating against homosexuality if it has ” nothing to do with religion.” and why are they not aware of this so called “accept(ance of) various sexuality starting from our mythology.”?Recommend

  • Rana Eddy

    Why do some Muslims spread terror , if their peaceful religion does not sanction it ??Recommend