Gangs, police target Indian gays with blackmail and sexual abuse

Gangs, police target Indian gays with blackmail and sexual abuse

NEW DELHI - When Rajan was followed by two men into a public toilet in Mumbai and forced to perform oral sex on them, the 31-year-old gay marketing professional realised this was the beginning of the end of his short-lived sexual freedom.

"They knew I was gay. They were watching me and waiting. They filmed the whole thing and threatened to tell the police," Rajan, who did not want to disclose his full name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Then they took me to an ATM and made me withdraw all the money I had which was 15,000 rupees ($240)... Even though society has not fully accepted us, the law was there to protect us. But now we are scared."

Rajan is one of thousands of people from India's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT) who have faced persecution after the world's largest democracy in December 2013 reinstated a colonial-era law banning gay sex, say activists.

They are campaigning to reverse this ruling by the Supreme Court, arguing the reinstated law has led to a surge in reports of gangs, as well as the police, intimidating, harassing, raping, blackmailing and extorting money from LGBT people.

Gay sex is punishable by up to 10 years jail under this law.

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

"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."

"AGAINST THE ORDER OF NATURE"

There are no official figures on the number of cases. Most go unreported as victims are too scared to report crimes to the police fearing the newly reinstated law is used against them.

One case study in a report by the Coalition for Sex Workers and Sexuality Minority Rights documented a doctor duped into a relationship with two men who filmed him having sex and extorted 1.3 million rupees ($20,775) from him. The police were tipped off about extortion - but charged the victim.

In another incident, a woman who suspected her husband was having an affair installed a webcam in their bedroom and discovered he was sleeping with men. She took the footage to police who arrested her husband.

Charities like the Humsafar Trust say reports of abuse have almost trebled in the last year, with Giani documenting 500 reports of abuse of LGBT people in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat in 2014.

India has a rich history of eunuchs and male-to-female transgender people known as "hijras" who were respected and considered close confidants of emperors in the Mughal empire.

But British colonisers in 1860 introduced Section 377 to legislation that prohibited "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" which was widely interpreted to refer to homosexual sex.

Over the years, the country's sexual minorities - especially transgender people who are more visible - have been driven to the fringes of society, into sex work, and face discrimination in jobs and basic services such as health and education.

In 2009, however, the Delhi High Court ruled Section 377 violated constitutional guarantees for equality, privacy and freedom of expression, ending the ban on same sex relationships.

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