Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts

January 10, 2017

‘Indian’ Bollywood Director Careful About His Sexual Orientation-Is He Right?

{Section 377 may be a law about sexual acts, but it camouflages a more sinister agenda}

 Karan Johar

Karan Johar has been rumoured to be gay for a long time. Now, in a recent excerpt from a yet-to-be released biography titled An Unsuitable Boy the Bollywood director seems to have just come out.

Except, as Johar notes himself, he hasn’t actually said it: “Everybody knows what my sexual orientation is. I don’t need to scream it out. And if I need to spell it out, I won’t only because I live in a country where I could possibly be jailed for saying this. Which is why I Karan Johar will not say the three words that possibly everybody knows about me in any case.”

Johar has got flak for this – and not just from the homophobes. He’s been criticised by LGBT activists for not being willing to make an explicit statement at a time when gays and lesbians across the country are increasingly open about their orientation.

If they can be open without fearing prosecution, why can’t he? At a time when it seems increasingly possible to lead a fairly open life as a gay or lesbian, to write about LGBT subjects, make films with LGBT themes, appear on TV quite open about your sexuality, why is Johar reminding us that it is still illegal under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code?

Sinister agenda
Because he is correct, not just about the law and how it appears to operate, but about how it is meant to operate. Section 377 may be a law about sexual acts, but it camouflages a more sinister agenda. A brief look at the history of the law tells a story of far wider significance than a mere sexual act

It took Lord Macaulay (the man who gave us our Penal Code) over 30 years, from 1825-1860 to fine tune the offence of sodomy. Section 377’s predecessor in Macaulay’s first draft of the Penal Code in 1837 was clause 361, which defined a severe punishment for “touching another for the purpose of unnatural lust”. Macaulay, who never married himself, wrote that he wanted “as little as possible should be said” about this issue, abhorring even the idea of any debate or discussion on this “heinous crime”.

This squeamishness may be why we finally ended up with a more cumbersome offence which punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” between men, and also between a man and a woman. Even though neither “carnal”, “intercourse” or the word “nature” was defined, in time they came to stand for any sexual activity that involved ‘penetration’ without ‘procreation’.

But Section 377 always was, and continues to be, a smokescreen law. Its real intention was never to get inside bedrooms of people to catch them having sex, which is both impractical and to an extent not easily possible. The goal behind Section 377 was to create an environment of fear and persecution among people who are likely to partake in “sexual activities against the order of nature”.

This is the link between the archaic wording of the law and the reality of LGBT individuals today. They might not think the crude assumption of a sexual act extends to covering their lives as people whose sexuality is a natural part of themselves, as likely to be criminalised as their height or which hand they use to write. But under the law, as it has been interpreted, the possibility definitely exist.

  Queen Empress v. Khairati  
This was made clear in the 1884 case of Queen Empress v. Khairati, where a hijra was picked up by the police while dancing in a ceremony and arrested under Section 377. According to the case a “eunuch”, was kept under constant “supervision” by the police and arrested upon being “found singing dressed as a woman”.

There was no record of any actual sexual act taking place, but the prosecution argued that incriminating evidence existed: on examination – the record does not state how, or whether consent was involved – the hijra was found to have an anus distorted into the shape of a trumpet. This, the prosecution argued, was the mark of a habitual sodomite, who had committed the offence at “an unknown place, at an unknown time, with an unknown person”.

The Khairati case established that under the law there was a presumption of sex which could make all LGBT people vulnerable, even in the absence of any sexual act. That precedent doesn’t just hold today, but was expanded and made even more explicit in other judgments over the years.

In fact, far from being the almost never used law that it is often assumed to be, the affair of Indian courts with Section 377 that began with Khairati has a very long and interesting life. Courts both before and after Independence have been devoted to finding ways of expanding the scope of Section 377.

Never satisfied with the narrow vision of “gay sex” alone, which could mean anal sex, in the much cited case of Khanu v Emperor (1925) they added oral sex to its scope. The courts used two essential parameters under S 377: (a) Existence of penetrative intercourse with an orifice, and (b) Impossibility of conception, thus against the order of nature.

To determine whether there could have been penetration, the judges defined intercourse as, “a temporary visitation to one organism by another... The primary object of the visiting organisation is to obtain euphoria by means of a detent of the nerves consequent on the sexual crisis”.

Thus as long as there is an orifice (in this instance, the mouth) which can envelop the “penis” and provide sexual climax, it qualifies as carnal intercourse. This logic was extended to also include acts of masturbation between two men under the scope of Section 377, bringing us closer to the earlier definition of ‘touching’ contemplated by Macaulay.

The case of Noshirwan vs Emperor (1934) makes it clear how the law was used to stigmatise. In this case a neighbour forcibly committed two young adult men to the police station for sodomy. The two accused were released and their conviction set aside as the act of the sodomy was never completed, although the judge did reprimand one of the men, Ratansi, as a “despicable” specimen of humanity for being addicted to the “vice of a catamite” on his own admission. As with Khairati we see the association of the person, a habitual sodomite or a catamite, with the act, rather than the act in isolation.

Thus a better way to understand the law in the present times, if we must stick to a sexual definition, is that it proscribes any kind of same sex intimacy, no matter how it expresses itself. In the year 2007, an English tourist called Desmond Hope was caught kissing another man behind a church in Colva, Goa, and arrested under 377, under a false charge of indulging in “gay sex”.

The police allegedly asked Hope for a hefty bribe of Rs.50,000 – a confirmation of how the most effective use of the law has actually been in enabling blackmail. When Hope refused the police booked him in jail, where he spent over 30 days – under both judicial and media scrutiny – before finally being acquitted.

Hope’s account is an extreme example of the kind of harassment same-sex couples have faced regularly across the country under the garb of Section 377. While, most of us escape by paying a bribe, Hope’s defiance only landed him in actual prison time.

False charges
An even more egregious case was that of Arif Jafar and three other employees of Naz International, a Lucknow-based HIV-prevention organisation. In 2001 they were arrested under false charges of Section 377 and kept in jail for over 45 days before being acquitted. No sexual act was said to have taken place. The only evidence deemed necessary for the police to charge them with sodomy was the material on safe sex practices that they possessed to disseminate against the spread of HIV. This got them charged with running “sex rackets” and “promoting homosexuality”.

Both Jafar and Desmond were finally acquitted, yet they ended up spending more than 30 days in prison. Their only crime was that they were gay. As far as the police was concerned, they applied the law correctly, to its true meaning, to arrest gay men for being gay.

Section 377 was always about the individual, which in the 19th century was the “abhorrent unnamed Khairati”, in early mid-20th century the “sexually depraved” and now in modern times stands proudly as the gay man. The fact that people aren’t being arrested doesn’t mean that they can’t be, or that they can’t be threatened with the harassment of the charge.

Johar understands this clearly when he writes, “The reason I don’t say it out aloud is simply that I don’t want to be dealing with the FIRs. I’m very sorry. I have a job, I have a commitment to my company, to my people who work for me; there are over a hundred people that I’m answerable to. I’m not going to sit in the courts because of ridiculous, completely bigoted individuals who have no education, no intelligence, who go into some kind of rapture for publicity.”

LGBT activists aren’t wrong when they note that so many brave people are coming out and leading their lives openly in India. But they should not in true conscience say that Johar is wrong either. The presumption of being gay, and of this being a criminal offense, is still very much alive and menacing in India today.

August 17, 2016

Amnesty International’s HRC Being Investigated by India for Sedition

Police confront Kashmiri rapper MC Kash at an Amnesty event in Bangalore on Saturday

Sedition=Condcut or speech inciting people to rebel against the state (not used in Democracies but 
Obviously India likes to swing both ways).
Amnesty International, the human rights campaign group, is being investigated by Indian police for alleged sedition after its local activists held a public meeting to discuss abuses by Indian security forces in the troubled Kashmir valley. 

The weekend meeting in Bangalore, the hub of India’s information technology industry, was intended to raise public awareness about the civilian toll of a brutal conflict between separatist militants and security forces that has claimed at least 44,000 lives since 1989.
But during the event, part of a campaign to hold Indian security forces to account for rapes, extrajudicial killings and other abuses in Kashmir, some participants shouted azadi, which means freedom and is the slogan of Kashmiri separatists seeking an end to Indian rule.

Bangalore police have launched a formal criminal investigation against Amnesty, acting on a complaint from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student arm of the rightwing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party.
The authorities are investigating whether Amnesty activists can be formally charged with sedition, as well as crimes such as unlawful assembly, rioting and “promoting enmity”, and also trying to identify those responsible for the meeting. 

The investigation comes as residents of the troubled Kashmir valley endure their 39th consecutive day of a strict curfew — during which schools, businesses, public transport and all normal life has been shut down as Indian security forces try to quell violent mass protests triggered by the July killing of a prominent separatist militant. About 60 people have been killed — and scores blinded by police pellets — during the weeks of unrest. 

The furore echoes recent controversies over the limits of acceptable speech in India, especially as it pertains to controversial subjects such as Kashmir, with its long-running separatist insurgency, and New Delhi’s use of the death penalty.

Amnesty’s India arm, which had notified the police about the weekend event in Bangalore, said it had yet to receive a copy of the complaint. But activists described the police probe as an attempt to curb freedom of expression. 

“Merely organising an event to defend constitutional values is now being branded ‘anti-India’ and criminalised,” said Aakar Patel, executive director of Amnesty International India. 
In its statement, Amnesty said it did not take a stand on demands for self-determination but believed in citizens’ right to peacefully campaign for police change, so long as such advocacy did not incite violence.

In February New Delhi police arrested eight students of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University for alleged sedition, after they led a campus protest against the 2013 execution of a Kashmiri convicted of terror offenses.
Just a month earlier, India was rocked by the suicide of a Hyderabad University PhD student who had been banned from the campus — and had his scholarship money cut off for months — after a squabble with ABVP activists over another protest against capital punishment.

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

I’ll keep you posted how this ridiculous investigation goes. My guess is that is being used in the same they are used in the same way some in the United States use investigations to intimidate people so they can maybe bend more of your way instead of the truth’s way. Knowing Amnesty International and how dedicated these people are I think the technocrat who made this decision might be disappointed.

December 2, 2015

In India: “Never Care Much About Gay rights Until Our Son in Law Turned Out Gay”


I never cared much for LGBT (for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) activists who conducted gay pride parades in some cities. Having been raised in a conservative society I was of the opinion that homosexuality was an inappropriate kind of sexuality. In any case it was a punishable offence under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Moreover, I had no idea about matters to do with sexual orientation.
It was when my husband broke the news that our son-in-law of eight months was gay that suddenly homosexuality became a central problem in my life. The news was hard to take and my whole world came crumbling down. My daughter’s marriage was ruined and the different ramifications of this were hard to grapple with. The reactions and responses of my family members were varied. Some were shocked, and for others it was disbelief. The older generation who had not even heard of homosexuality, wept along with me as if a death had occurred. Many advised us that counselling and treatment could cure him and save the marriage. Many blamed my daughter for her husband’s homosexuality. I went through different emotions ranging from anger, repulsion, disappointment, guilt, shame and rejection. It was a difficult journey, but in the process I learnt a lot about homosexuality and how our society views it.
India has about 2.5 million homosexuals, according to a report submitted to the Supreme Court in 2012. In India, 140,000 gay men are registered with a popular dating site. Eighty per cent of them are between 15 and 30 years of age. However, as a society we have no clue of how to deal with homosexuality.
I feel that our homophobic society should be helped to understand that homosexuality is a complex phenomenon, influenced by many variables, including biological and environmental factors and involving personal choices. It is not a phase, a choice, or something that can be changed through coercion or convincing. There are many theories behind it. In most cases, homosexuals claim that sexual orientation is biologically determined. The conservatives among us think it is fully determined by the environment. Some others claim homosexuality is partially genetic and partially environmental. Another group says people’s sexual desires are shaped by the social and cultural context, and the decision to be a homosexual depends on factors of personal choice. Sigmund Freud believed everyone is constitutionally bisexual. But most of these theories are not empirically supported.
American geneticist Dean Hamer and his colleagues conducted extensive interviews with 76 pairs of homosexual brothers and their family members and found that homosexuality seemed to be inherited through the maternal line. This led him to compare the X chromosomes, which are inherited only from the mother. There he found a shared genetic marker. The precise base pairs that may turn a man into a homosexual could not be identified. Studies have shown that among identical twins (who share the same DNA) if one is homosexual, there is a 50 per cent chance that the other was likely to be one. Among fraternal twins, there was only a 20 per cent chance.
In order to get greater acceptance, LGBT rights activists may argue that homosexuality is a neurobiological phenomenon. Between gay and straight men the anterior hypothalamus has structural differences. According to another theory, sexual orientation is a prenatal process involving both hormonal and neurological factors. If the levels of sex hormones in a foetus of either sex between the second and fifth months of gestation are in the typical female range, the person is likely to be attracted to males after puberty, and vice versa.
Environmental factors comprise of all causes of variation that are not genetic. Most social theorists see childhood elements as the largest contributing factor to homosexuality. Parental encouragement, initiation by homosexuals, chance learning through seduction, physical issues, incongruence with one’s own gender and sexual conditioning may all come under the category of environmental factors. Ray Blanchard, a psychiatric researcher, found in 1996 that men with older brothers were more likely to be gay than those without (33 per cent). Most psychoanalytical theories stress the role of parental and family dynamics.
Our character is the net result of our life experiences and choices, so the individual himself/herself plays a role in determining his or her sexual identity. Both biologists and environmentalists are trying to find support for their theories. The moral police may say it is all environmental. 
Research on sexual behaviour is often a dicey proposition as discrepancies do exist between what people say about sex and what they do. Few conclusions can be drawn with certainty from genetic or environmental determinants of sexuality. But one thing is for sure: sexual evolution has generally brought a higher level of acceptance of homosexuality.
My request to all those who feel they have homosexual tendencies is to come out of the closet and discuss the choice with family and friends. You need a secure base from which you can fly; let your family help in that. Do not try to change yourself. Most of all, do not get into a heterosexual marriage in order to try and bring ‘normalcy’ into your life. Be bold and accept your sexual identity.
Parents should recognise and come to terms with the fact that a child is homosexual. Let your child not have to gravitate to others in order to get support. You should have an intimate supportive relationship with him or her. Do not think your child will outgrow the “phase”. Do not try to “fix” children by coercing them into a heterosexual marriage. 
Doctors and counselors cannot help them become someone they are not. Treat your children with compassion and care rather than judgment. Let our prejudices not be reason for greater grievances.

April 10, 2015

At 37 in Rhasthan India his sons R Aware of his being Gay and His Wife is friend with his Partner

 Gay couple dressed as newly weds at pride in India

Recently, an apparel brand conducted a survey to gauge the mindsets of people in Mumbai. Dating was among the many aspects that this survey covered. Among the interesting insights that emerged was the statistic that 60 per cent of the people who were polled, said that they didn’t mind dating people of the same sex. 
Given that homosexuality is still a controversial topic in India — most people from the LGBT community are also vocal about facing discrimination — not many are known to disclose details about their sexual orientations. So, this insight surprised us. 
To gain a better understanding of the challenges that members of the LGBT community face every day, we approached a city-based 37-year-old homosexual man, who is married to a woman, to share an honest account of what it is like to be in his situation. Here’s what he said.
hail from a small district in Rajasthan. I am not sure when I realised I was gay, but I was only four or five when I fell in love with a boy from my area. We would play a game, in which I would be the husband, and he would be my wife. I would wait outside his house for hours to see him. I wanted to kiss him, and be kissed by him. We would sing songs for each other. This went on till I was 10. That’s when he got married.

Back then, child marriage was common in my family, as well as in the area we lived in. Soon, my friends also started getting married. Since my lover had already been married off, I, too, got married to a girl when I was 11. At that time, I did not know that there are other people like me. I did not understand the implications and responsibilities that come with marriage. 

Later, I moved to Mumbai. My wife was still in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. We used to talk over the phone, but I didn’t feel the need to tell her about my sexual orientation. We got married again (this time, formally) when we were older. I had a boyfriend at that time, but we were not in a physical relationship. I even invited him to my wedding, and he didn’t mind attending it, since he knew my marriage was a social obligation.

After my wife moved to Mumbai, I told her I was gay. She was in denial, and thought I was talking nonsense. She suggested I get help, citing an instance where a girl came on to her once, but that hadn’t changed her sexual orientation. I tried to explain to her that no one had forced me to be gay, but she couldn’t understand. She believed that two men can only be friends.

After a few years, people started taunting me for not bearing children. So I even had two kids with my wife. Whenever she would lie next to me, I’d feel anxious about the prospect of having sex with her. Now, we have sex whenever she feels the need to, but not frequently. It pains me to make her go through this.

I have considered getting a divorce, but my wife and in-laws feel it would shame the family. My wife tells me that I am her first love, and that she won’t stop loving me till she dies, even if I am with another man.

After 15 years together, she has now understood my sexuality. She is also friends with my current boyfriend, and has become my best friend and confidante. Now, everyone in my family knows that I am gay. But they still don’t understand what that means.

My children are now 11 and 13, and are aware of my sexual orientation. I have been talking to them about gay couples, making sure they are open to the fact that people can be in same-sex relationships. They are very supportive, and have even faced harassment because of me. I have fought with people in my society for troubling my kids. I tell them not to treat them the way they treat me. I don’t talk to people in my area. I also don’t attend any festivals, family gatherings or marriages, for my family’s sake.

I know that people in my locality discreetly talk about my sexual preferences. They don’t understand what it means to be gay. Even if I go to a hospital for some treatment, and people there learn that I am gay, I am ignored just because of my sexuality. I don’t see things changing for me or for other gay men in the near future — not at least in my lifetime.

I’ll continue living the way I have lived my life so far. There is no other option for me. 

April 8, 2015

Abuse, Blackmail and Violence Results of India’s Gay Sex Ban

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - 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 realized 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."
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 colonizers 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.
Sachin Awasthy, advocacy officer for Pehchan, a group which provides healthcare to sexual minorities, said this watershed moment for the LGBT rights movement led to a new openness.
Annual gay pride marches emerged in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), newspapers and TV stations increased coverage of LGBT issues, and India's usually formulaic film industry introduced the issue of homosexuality.
"There was more coverage of the issue in the media, in schools and colleges. People started talking about their sexuality and coming out," said Awasthy.
So it came as a shock to human rights groups when the Supreme Court recriminalized gay sex 15 months ago, saying only India's parliament could decide on Section 377.
"The ruling has turned the clock back," said Amitava Sarkar, a transgender and activist from the India's HIV/AIDS Alliance. 
"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."
She said even though the Supreme Court has since recognized transgender people as a third gender and called on the government to ensure their equal rights, it does not recognize their right to have sexual relationships. 
In the past year, activists say their worst fears have been realized with LGBT people harassed and now scared to come out and express their sexuality.
Home Ministry figures show there were 778 cases registered under Section 377 from January to September last year, from which 587 people were arrested. There is, however, no break-up of how many of those charged were heterosexual or LGBT people.
Activists say LGBT people do not hold out hope that the country's right-wing government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will change the law in parliament.
Last month India was among 43 countries in the United Nations to vote unsuccessfully to stop benefits to same-sex partners of U.N. staff. 
"This shows how homophobic the politicians in our country are," said Anjali Gopalan, director of the Naz Foundation, which has appealed against the Supreme Court decision.
"The Indian government could have shown that they are progressive and that they support equality, but they did not. Our hopes now lie with the courts.” 
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

March 26, 2015

India Votes with Russia Against UNWorkers and Gay Marriage :} UN Still Will Recognize Gay Marriages


India votes with anti-gay powers but UN can recognise same-sex marriages now

 India voted with Russia, China, Syria, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia at the General Assembly but could not block a proposal to recognize gay marriages and relationships for UN officials.
 India’s Gay Spa
The loss means the UN will recognize same-sex marriages involving its officials and diplomats of Indian nationality and extend diplomatic privileges to their spouses, even though such unions are not legal in India, Indian diplomats posted at the body's New York headquarters confirmed late this evening.

The senior officials said it was not immediately clear if the UN resolution would require India to legally recognize gay partners of foreign UN diplomats based here. 
If it does, at least three gay UN diplomats here are likely to bring their partners to New Delhi to become the first-ever same-sex couples legally acknowledged by the Indian government, officials at the foreign office and the UN said.

"It's a great day not just for same-sex couples, but for all those who believe in equality cutting across sexual orientations," a UN diplomat said. "Hopefully, it will also nudge India and other countries to relax its own domestic laws."
India and China were among 44 countries that voted against a UN proposal to extend to gay couples diplomatic privileges available to spouses and partners of heterosexual diplomats. Russia had moved the vote to block the resolution.
The resolution was, however, cleared since 80 nations voted in favour, with 37 abstentions and 33 countries absenting themselves. It will not help non-UN foreign diplomats posted in India.

India does not recognise gay marriages and has for years refused to extend diplomatic privileges to gay partners of foreign diplomats posted here, citing Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that bars homosexual acts. Diplomatic privileges, detailed under two UN conventions from the 1960s, include access to diplomatic passports, tax-free earnings, cars with diplomatic licences, and a slew of smaller concessions.
The UN, till now, has followed a policy of allowing each country to extend those diplomatic privileges to the spouses and partners of UN officials - both foreigners and those of that country's nationality - that are in line with its domestic laws.
That policy also included different privileges for different employees based on their nationality. A gay Indian national working at the UN could not, for instance, receive the same privileges and benefits for his or her partner even if posted in a nation where same-sex marriages are legal.
But last June, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon had announced that the body would move towards extending equal benefits to all diplomatic partners.
India today argued Ban’s decision was taken without consultation with other nations to explain a rare vote at the UN General Assembly where India and Pakistan were on the same side.

"It was that unilateral decision that was the main reason for our vote," external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said. "This is not a simple matter."
For India, the UN resolution has thrown up a clutch of challenges, with no easy solutions.
While the resolution does not mean an Indian national working at the UN can register a gay marriage in India, his diplomatic passport will now reflect his same-sex marriage if registered in a country where it is recognised. His partner’s passport will also carry details of the marriage recognised by the UN.

"What do we do when they come to India - recognise them or treat them as freaks?" an Indian official wondered. "Will they, in India, be allowed to treat each other as legal heirs or dependents, just as an example? We don't know. We'll have to figure this out."
If the UN resolution also means that India will need to legally recognise gay partners of UN diplomats based here, the challenge gets compounded, officials said.
First, India will then need to figure out a way to extend full diplomatic privileges to spouses and partners of gay UN diplomats without violating its own law. Section 377, struck down by Delhi High Court in 2009, was re-instated by the Supreme Court in 2013. A larger top court bench is hearing petitions on the law.

Second, India will have to devise a larger justification if it intends to continue its past posture with diplomats of other foreign missions. Till now, New Delhi has been arguing that it simply cannot bend the law.
"The question we will be asked is that if we can bend rules for UN diplomats, why can't we do the same for others," an Indian official said.
But quietly, some Indian diplomats are hoping the UN decision propels a review in New Delhi of how to treat other gay foreign diplomats.
"It's a constant headache for us to fight the perception of a socially backward state when we meet such diplomats, and it doesn't help with our foreign policy," a second diplomat said. "Frankly, it's a baggage we're carrying."
A gay World Health Organisation diplomat who had lived with his partner in four other nations previously, was, for instance, forced to come to India alone, because of the earlier UN rule.
"What India needs to realise is that its policy is driving away diplomats who otherwise love this country," he had told this correspondent once, over a cup of coffee in his office. “For every one like me, who makes this sacrifice, there are many who simply will not."


March 25, 2015

Supreme Court in India Stops Internet Arrests


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Section 66A of Information Technology Act as unconstitutional and struck it down.

This section had been widely misused by police in various states to arrest innocent persons for posing their comments on social network sites on social events and political leaders.

The court said such a law hit at the root of liberty and freedom of expression, two cardinal pillars of democracy. 
The court said the section has to be erased from the law books as it has gone much beyond the reasonable restrictions put by Constitution on freedom of speech.

The court, however, allowed the government to block websites if their contents had the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India's relationship with other countries.

The SC delivered its judgment on a bunch of petitions filed in the light of misuse of the penal provision by government authorities against persons who allegedly uploaded offensive posts on social networking sites.

The petitioners, including NGOs, civil rights groups and a law student, had argued that Section 66A violated citizens' fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.

The government had opposed the plea for quashing the provision saying it is meant to deter people from uploading grossly offensive material which can lead to lawlessness by inciting public anger and violence.

Justifying the retention of the provision, the Centre had told the apex court that the impact of internet is much wider and restriction on this medium should be higher in comparison to print and TV.

It had said unlike print and electronic media, internet did not operate in an institutional form and there was need for some mechanism to put checks and balances. The government had said the provision could not be quashed just because of its potential misuse. Posting pictures and comments on social networking sites which hurt religious sentiments could not be tolerated and people must be prosecuted, it said. 

India Times

March 13, 2015

Save us from our Saviors in India

 The Indian organization Sangram urges outside evangelists and progressives alike to respect LGBT people and sex workers. Click this image to see the video. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

American religious evangelicals aren’t the only ones who need to learn to respect LGBT people and sex workers.  Progressive activists do too, says Meena Seshu, the founder and secretary-general of the Indian health and human rights advocacy group Sangram.

“I was trained as a social worker,” Seshu said. “And you know social workers — we guide communities. That’s our job. So I was all ready to go and start working with this community and guide them. Can you imagine my surprise when the community resisted it totally and said you have no knowledge about sex work, you have no understanding of what it means to be a sex worker? What do you mean by saying you want to guide us?

“And, whoa, I was like, ‘I’m sorry. I agree. I know nothing. Can you please teach me?’ “

Meena Seshu, founder and secretary general of the Indian health and human rights advocacy group Sangram. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)
Meena Seshu, founder and secretary general of the Indian health and human rights advocacy group Sangram. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

A result of that insight was a Bill of Rights formulated by Sangram (Sampada Gramin Mahila Sanstha), which is based in Sangli, Maharashtra, India. Seshu  describes that Bill of Rights in the latest video in the “Quorum” series of 11 discussions of international LGBTI issues. Excerpts from the video are here, including five rights enumerated by Sangram:

1. People have the right to be approached with humility and respect

“The middle-class, upper-caste woman in India has no clue how the common poor sex workers live but, yes, we have the education and the privilege to believe that we can teach them anything, even about their own life and their own experiences. We learned that you can’t do that. You have to let the community lead your programs. You have to go there and be humble and you have to be respectful of the community to be able to get any kind of justice for the community” Seshu said.

2. People have the right to reject harmful social norms.

“If trans women are saying that they are women, then the women’s rights movement will have to accept them and say that they are women, they have rights as women, and their rights will be honored. It’s activists like us from the women’s rights movement that have to learn that these are harmful social norms that we have imbibed also as feminists and part of the women’s rights movement. This has to change,” Seshu said.

3. People have the right to stand up and change the balance of power.

4. People have the right not to be “rescued” by outsiders who neither understand nor respect them.

5. People have the right to exist how they want to exist.

The Seshu video is the sixth of 11 discussions of international LGBTI issues that overall are designed to “reverse the megaphone,” allowing activists from abroad to tell Western viewers about the challenges that LGBTI people face worldwide. The videos were recorded at a December 2014 meeting in New York.

The series, under its full title “Quorum: Global LGBT voices,” is presented by The Daily Beast. The Erasing 76 Crimes blog, as a member of the advisory board for the project, helped The Daily Beast select Quorum speakers.

February 7, 2015

Gay Cruising in India


NEW DELHI — Observing gay cruising in India felt like high-stakes bird watching — the fluttering of something delicate and intense. On a Sunday night in mid-December, I visited Nehru Park with a gay rights activist; he agreed to accompany me but asked to remain nameless, in part because homosexuality is illegal in India.

The 85-acre park, in a wealthy area of the capital that hosts most of the capital’s embassies, was poorly lit, rambling, and quiet. The travel website Cruising Gays called the park, which is named after India’s first prime minister, the “grand dame” of New Delhi’s cruising places. “On Sunday evenings, the gardens are rocking with over a hundred men hanging around, waiting, looking and just checking out the scene,” claimed an undated post on the site. “If you are a novice and looking to meet other men, this is the place you should start with.” The technique, the activist told me, was simple. Stroll, keeping your head up, and make eye contact with men who walk by. If someone catches your eye and smiles, walk up and say hello.

The park was nearly empty. The activist pointed out one man and we walked behind him stealthily, but he disappeared into the darkness. We spotted another, ambling through a path about 40 feet away from us. Twenty-five million people live in the Indian capital — it’s the world’s second largest city — but all I could hear were our footsteps, illuminated by the light on my iPhone, and my overactive breath. As we neared, preparing to say hello, I noticed the man was wearing a jaunty cap, and a uniform. Stepping closer, I saw a gun on his belt. “That’s a policeman,” the activist said quietly. If he knew what we were doing there, he chose to ignore it. We quickly walked away.

In December 2013, India’s Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality, overturning a 2009 ruling by the Delhi High Court that had legalized same-sex relations. “Carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman or animal,” can now once again be punished with up to 10 years in prison, according to the law — Section 377 of the Indian penal code. Accurate statistics on the size of India’s LGBT community are hard to come by, but some 7-10 percent of India’s population could be affected by the law, estimates Arvind Narrain, one of the founders of the Indian research organization Alternative Law Forum.

The ruling, however, appears to have barely affected cruising. There’s no good measure on the extent of cruising in New Delhi, or in India as a whole, but mobile apps like Grindr and Scruff — and the meet-up site Planet Romeo — are gaining popularity. Grindr, probably the best-known gay hook-up app, has 69,823 average active monthly users in India, according to a company spokesperson. While that’s relatively low (roughly equal to the number of active users the app has in Boston) it’s growing healthily, the spokesperson said.

In the United States, cruising has been mostly supplanted by the Internet and apps that facilitate meet ups and hook ups. With the Internet “came online cruising and a way for gay men to connect with one another besides the newspapers and clubs,” Johnny Skandros, the founder of Scruff, said in an email. “In the United States, it changed chronologically. Technology overhauled bars and cruising spots,” Parmesh Shahani, a gay activist and author of the book Gay Bombay, told me. “But in India, these parallel cultures [are] existing simultaneously.”

The Nehru Park activist tells me that he now meets men mostly online. That night, we ate at a restaurant called Soda Bottle Opener Wala in Khan Market, a touristy area popular with foreigners. He pulled up Grindr, and his screen was filled with nearby men, and a healthy backlog of unread messages. “So many!” he said.He pulled up Grindr, and his screen was filled with nearby men, and a healthy backlog of unread messages. “So many!” he said. Especially for those in the middle and upper class, “there’s definitely been a huge transition from the physical space to the Internet space,” he added.

India is still more than two-thirds rural and overwhelmingly poor, however; the country’s average per capita income on a purchasing power parity basis was just $5,412 in 2013. And while cellphones are common, less than 10 percent of India’s 1.25 billion people have smartphones. “Everyone talks about India as a land of IT, where there’s lots of nerds around, but it’s still just a very thin veneer of the middle class” that lives in that world, says the journalist Ashok Row Kavi. Especially among the working class and the lower middle class, who make up the majority of India’s gay population, “the cruising culture is still very strong,” he told me.

* * *
In an industrial area of New Delhi, full of gaping, half-finished buildings and shops selling cricket equipment, I visited one of India’s only gay spas. I had read about it online — but at the requests of activists I spoke with, I won’t reveal identifying details about the place. For a roughly $20 dollars entry and massage fee — a price that put it out of reach for the majority of New Delhi’s gay population — the attendee manning the front desk led me to a small room where roughly eight male prostitutes sat and watched television. They were diverse, to account for customer’s tastes: muscular, skinny, short, tall — with skin colors ranging from olive to dark brown. One of the massage rooms featured a single bleary red light hanging from the ceiling, and little else.

Like many of the people I spoke to, Row Kavi had been to the spa — but he didn’t like it. “It was very tacky,” he told me. “There isn’t much talk, socializing, or chatting. No reasonable discourse. It’s a wham-bam-thank-you-man kind of place.”

Row Kavi has been to Nehru Park too, but it’s not his scene either. “You see upper middle class queens cruising the bylanes, quick checks and off you go,” he told me. “That’s fine, but it doesn’t end up with any sort of social interaction.” He prefers the park above the Palika Bazaar in Connaught Place, a busy shopping area. “I used to go there once a month,” he said. “It’s like a fraternity of sisters gossiping away.”

The activist from Nehru Park told me that he also used to like the Palika Bazaar area. “It was extremely thrilling,” he said over dinner. “The thrill is that you’re doing it knowing that it was slightly dangerous, and it’s kind of a chase…. It’s quite addictive.”“The thrill is that you’re doing it knowing that it was slightly dangerous, and it’s kind of a chase…. It’s quite addictive.”

But I found the space incredibly depressing. The first time I went was on a Monday afternoon. I didn’t see anyone cruising; the only people I came across were slack-mouthed hucksters, with the physical tightness that in the United States might mark a flyweight boxer; in India, it screams malnutrition.

* * *
India’s Congress Party, long the dominant political force in the country and home to Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, has been relatively liberal on the issue of gay rights. When the Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality in 2013, Congress spoke out in favor for the rights of India’s LGBT community. Other minor parties, including the Communist Party of India, have also voiced support for gay rights.

But in May 2014, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi, won a resounding election victory. Many gay rights activists I spoke to said they didn’t vote for Modi’s party because of its social conservatism, but that they were in a wait-and-see mode: wary of the aftereffects of December 2013 ruling, but unwilling to speak out against the BJP because they didn’t want to force Modi to comment on homosexuality. Believed to be celibate, though previously married at a young age, Modi has been quiet on the issue. Homosexuality “is a matter for the courts, not the government,” M.J. Akbar, a spokesman for the BJP told me. “I don’t have any sense of what’s Modi’s view on homosexuality.

Still, the status quo is dangerous. Indian government data shows 587 people arrested under Section 377 from Jan.-Oct. 2014. But as some Indian states lack complete reports, the total is almost certainly higher. The problem, however, is persecution — not prosecution. Narrain describes it as a pyramid, with the hundreds of cases actually recorded at the top, and at the bottom, an uncountable number of cases where the law is used to blackmail, harass, and extort.

The activist whom I walked Nehru Park with became much less enthusiastic about cruising after cops caught him in a park several years ago. The inspector “was a nice guy and let me go,” he told me. He had been lucky. Friends of his had been beaten up, abused, and blackmailed. But the experience scared him. “It’s not quite pleasant,” the activist said. “I decided it wasn’t worth it.”

In December 2013, Rajnath Singh, then BJP president and now minister of home affairs, told reporters “Gay sex is not natural and we cannot support something which is unnatural.” Since then, some gay rights advocates have made the Hindu case for queerness. Devdutt Pattanaik, a popular Indian author, recently published a book called Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, which he describes as an “appreciation” of queerness in Indian mythology. Pattanaik sees references to queerness throughout Hindu mythology being ignored — from the male god Krishna braiding his hair as a woman to stories “of men who become women, and women who become men, of men who create children without women … and creatures who are neither this, nor that, but a little bit of both.” Hijra, India’s third gender — which encompasses transgender, eunuchs, and intersex — is legally recognized, although they are “ignored by the mainstream, often rejected by her own family, reduced to a joke in popular entertainment,” notes Pattanaik.

The book opens with an admonition appropriate for India, both today and in the colonial era: “Beware of a land where celibate men decide what is good sex.”“Beware of a land where celibate men decide what is good sex.” Celibacy runs through Indian political culture, and the country’s independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi, is also its most famous celibate. He found intercourse problematic, and would reportedly occasionally sleep naked next to attractive young women, to demonstrate his mastery over desire. But India’s Section 377 is a legacy of the British Raj. (Homosexuality in the United Kingdom was effectively criminalized until 1967.) In one of the earliest known usages of the law, in 1884, “the somewhat aptly named J. Straight was called upon to adjudicate whether a person who habitually wore women’s clothes and exhibited physical signs of having committed the offence had indeed committed the offence,” Narrain wrote in an essay. Police arresting men for “acting” gay still happens today, he told me. “If you perceive them to be L, G, B, or T, then you got them under this law,” he said.

And Bollywood, India’s hugely influential film industry, isn’t helping. “Making jokes at the expense of alternate sexual preferences is the norm in Bollywood,” said film critic Komal Nahta. There are a few openly gay Bollywood directors, but “no gay icons, no major Bollywood stars who have come out, no influential CEOs who have made their sexual orientation public,” the novelist Manil Suri wrote in a June 2013 essay in the literary magazine Granta.

For some, there is a joy in proclaiming one’s sexual identity. In The Man Who Would Be Queen, a collection of “autobiographical fictions” by the Indian author Hoshang Merchant, the narrator proclaims, “‘As everyone knows by now, I’m homosexual.’ To write this sentence to speak it publicly, which is a great liberation, is why I write.” But like many of the people associated with the Indian gay rights movement, Merchant has spent substantial time away from India. Suri’s essay is entitled “How to be Gay and Indian”; he lives in Maryland.

Back in India, gay culture remains mostly in the shadows. Later in my trip to New Delhi, I returned to the park above the Palika Bazaar, recommended by the activist from Nehru Park. It was the time of evening haze, and unlike the silence in Nehru Park, this well-kept lawn pulsated with the cacophony of car horns and tires screeching and loud and soft and angry and happy voices. There I saw a short man, with a clean, oversized gray hooded sweatshirt and a bit of a paunch. He walked around the space like it was his own, and then returned to the fence he had been leaning against, as dozens of men milled about the park, ignoring him. He smiled warmly, and then raised his eyebrows — as if trying to lead them to an overwhelming question.


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