Is the going away of Section 377 going to help LGBTQ+ people when it comes to reporting crimes? Not unless the police is sensitised, and workplaces change.

Queer men dating apps and crime How much does decriminalising 377 helpImage for representation. Courtesy: TNM
Delve LGBTQ+ Tuesday, September 25, 2018 - 12:21

In this two-part series, TNM examines the effects of technology via dating apps and sites on queer men and their relationships, specifically looking at incidents of blackmail, extortion and theft. In this final part, we speak to a pair of LGBTQ+ lawyers and a leader of an LGBT Employee Resource Group and more to understand the avenues of redress available to victims.

“We’ve interacted with many such cases,” says Deeptha Rao, an advocate with the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum on the morning that she meets with TNM. “In most cases, the victim is from the middle-class, though we’ve also dealt with cases of victims from the informal sector,” she adds. In her experience, the victim meets someone through a dating app or site, he’s asked to come to a place and then beaten up by a group of men who were waiting for him. While he’s being assaulted, in some cases, a video recording has been made of the victim where he’s being forced to say that he’s a homosexual and that he won’t do this again or some such similar declaration,” Deeptha tells TNM.

Bindu Doddahatti, also an advocate at the Alternative Law Forum chimes in to add, “Through their cases they’ve come to see that most of these crimes are being committed by organised gangs working through fake profiles on these online dating platforms.”

“Taking on the system might feel like double humiliation”

“In dealing with the cases of those who have been brave enough to come forward and report these incidents to us, we have to be very careful,” Bindu says. “We’ve had to sanitise the case, there can’t be any mention of the dating app or site to the police. We represent it as a simple blackmail, extortion and theft case. We stick to the facts of the case, we say the victim happened to be there and then this crime was committed,” she explains.

“We can’t reveal the sexual orientation of the victim because in these cases they are just open about their sexuality to close friends and us, not to their family or at their workplace, so we’ve got to strike this delicate balance while filing the complaint,” Deeptha adds. “All this was before the landmark judgement in the Justice KS Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union Of India And Ors which upholds the right to privacy, now we’re hoping that we have more wiggle room with regards to filing these complaints,” Deeptha hopes.

Though, these lawyers understand the difficult choice that each of these victims were making in reaching out to them. “They’re always choosing to live in fear or dealing with the criminal justice system, which can also be traumatic. In a way, sometimes, taking on the system might feel like double humiliation,” Deeptha admits. They’re hoping that the Supreme Court’s recent judgement in Navtej Singh Johar & Ors. versus Union of India thr. Secretary Ministry of Law and Justice that decriminalises homosexuality will help with these victims seeking redress.

“You might have a law but it remains redundant if we don’t use it,” Bindu says. “Though, it does take a certain courage to take on the system,” she cautions.

Another group of queer men majorly affected by these crimes are the commercial sex workers using these dating platforms to meet clients. “In their cases, they’ve even been sexually assaulted and we’ve even heard of rape taking place – these crimes can’t yet be addressed,” Bindu says.

“I’m out at work”

In the blackmail cases of where victims have been threatened with being outed at the workplace, TNM was told that slow but steady change is taking place to make LGBT employees feel more at ease.

“I’m out at work and it hasn’t been a problem in achieving my career goals,” says Ramkrishna Sinha, the leader of one such LGBT Employee Resource Group (ERG) at a city-based company. “Major companies have introduced LGBT ERG within their organisation, which helps people of the same affinity band together. These groups are officially recognised by the company, and give their LGBT employees a platform to make changes,” he adds. Through these groups with the support of the Diversity & Inclusion team, programmes are channelled out that run sensitisation workshops, movie screenings, or generally work towards creating awareness around the nuances of gender and sexuality, and its varied expressions,” he explains to TNM.

“There have also been a range of affirmative actions at the corporate level with companies like ThoughtWorks initiating a programme like Interning With Pride, which focuses on graduated techies from the LGBTQ+ community. ANZ Bangalore hired six transgender employees recently and Tata Steel launched WINGS, its ERG for LGBTQ+ employees,” he tells TNM.

“If such a traditional Indian company has stepped up to address this matter, I hope to see it in every organisation in the country soon,” Ramkrishna adds.

With regards to individual cases of blackmail, though Ramkrishna hasn’t personally come across any at the workplace, he helped TNM with mapping out the standard response from the ERG at these organisations. “The employee would be assured that they wouldn’t face any backlash at the workplace and we would even help with seeking legal action if the employee wanted to follow up,” he assures.

“They’ve been the enemy for so long to our community”

The hurdle to accessing the legal system is still filing the report at the police station, TNM learns. While the letter of the law has changed, will police stations become more sensitive to these situations?

TK*, the bisexual married man, doesn’t think so. “Even after the change in the law, I don’t think any LGBTQ+ identified person can go to a police station. They’ve been the enemy for so long to our community. Can he/she go, do you really think so? Not for a long time, I feel,” TK says.

Bindu, an advocate with the Alternative Law Forum, tells us of cases where the police have been the perpetrators of violence themselves. Srini Muktha, a volunteer with Good As You echoes this with a blackmail story that allegedly involves a policeman. “Someone told me of the time he was picked up by someone in a public place, and suddenly the other man told him that he from the police. Then, this alleged policeman took the gay man to an ATM and made him withdraw Rs 10,000,” he tells us. “We can’t be certain if it was a policeman or not, but we are just that afraid of them,” he adds.

“We need to build our own community networks”

While lawyers and community members are working towards taking on the legal system, and even working through the police system, they shouldn’t forget that these dating app and sites as service providers should be held accountable as well, Bindu reminds us.

“These apps need to get stringent with their security checks. They need to blacklist and respond to the fake profiles reported by their user base. They just can’t ignore these complaints. This hands-off approach can’t continue to happen,” she says. It might take some major lobbying from the LGBTQ+ community and even seeking a change in the law, she hazards.

Though, more informal systems might actually be better suited to tackle these miscreants, according to TK. “The going away of Section 377 isn’t going to make a difference if you’re straight, gay, bisexual, lesbian or trans, because there is still a lot of self-hatred in the LGBTQ+ community that we’ve got to work through. We’ve been made to feel guilty for so long because of our feelings, and made to feel different because of them,” he says. “Though, I’ve found good friends in the community too and even though I couldn’t turn to the cops, I could go to them and not be freaked out,” he adds.

“We need to work at exposing these fake profiles that use these dating platforms to their advantage in this way. We need to pass on this information and share these stories among ourselves, so that at least we can be aware and vigilant. We need to build our own community networks,” he tells TNM.

*Name Changed

Read Part 1: Queer men, dating apps and crime: The fear of being outed makes gay men vulnerable

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