At a 4-star hotel, an LGBTQ pride party was organised in May. Now, after the decriminalisation of Sec 377, community members are less afraid to report what happened.

 Stripped abused threatened by cops at Chennai hotel party allege LGBTQ peopleImage for representation only
news Police Harassment Saturday, September 29, 2018 - 14:20

The night of May 12 remains a horrifying memory for the 130 odd LGBTQ members from Chennai, who attended a pride party at a four-star hotel in the city. The party was hosted by Chennai Dost, a well known NGO, at Hotel Ramada Plaza in Guindy and all was fine till 12.15  am, before police officers unexpectedly arrived at the scene for a drug raid. During the raid, they allegedly abused, threatened and humiliated the attendees.

Speaking to TNM, 26-year-old Sharan Jayaraman, an LGBTQ activist who had attended the party says, "We were wrapping up the party around 12 am when 20-25 cops barged into the bar. They said it was a drug raid based on a tip off they had received. They seized everyone's phones and made each and everyone strip in groups."  

The officers had produced no search warrant and were allegedly abusive towards the attendees. Further, the strip search happened in public view, violating the detainees' right to privacy, Sharan says.

"During the search, they found 25 grams of dry alcohol and used this as an excuse to search us individually. Five people were taken at once to the smoking zone of the area and asked to strip. Apart from five transgender persons who were assigned lady police officers for the search, the others were all asked to undress in groups. The police said that they had to do it in groups to save time, as we were over a 100 people," Sharan says.

Besides the gross violation of privacy, attendees even report that they were verbally and, in a few cases, physically abused during the search.

"Some of the attendees had not yet got their sex reassignment surgeries done. The officers asked them specific questions about this. Another officer groped a person's chest and posed a perverted question. A few closet members were even threatened to be exposed to the public. This really scarred many people. Several of those who attended work at corporates and were scared that they would lose their jobs, as this happened prior to Section 377 being decriminalised," Vikranth Prasanna, one of the organisers of the event tells TNM.

Once the search was completed, it was 4 am and the police left after forcibly procuring personal information such as names, numbers and addresses of all attendees.

Human rights violations

The incident was under wraps for several months as victims were scared to speak up. However, following the decriminalisation of Section 377, the community plans to file a petition with the State Human Rights Commission.

Arun Kumar, an advocate who is closely involved with the issue, tells TNM that the raid was conducted in an illegal manner. The officers did not identify themselves, their department or produce a search warrant before the raid. This is mandatory, as per the law, he says.

"When we asked, the officer claimed they are from the Narcotics department. But on further enquiry, we found that some of them were from the T Nagar and Guindy police stations. What does the T Nagar police have to do with this? This does not come under their jurisdiction and it is a clear violation of law," Arun Kumar, an advocate who is closely involved with the issue tells TNM.

When TNM contacted the Narcotics Control Bureau in Chennai, a senior officer confirmed that no raids from the department had been carried out on the said date. “We are very sure that there were no raids done in Ramada hotel by our department in the said month. We will be enquiring into the incident once we receive a written complaint on the issue,” the officer, who did not wish to be named, said.

Aravindhan IPS, DCP of T Nagar, confirmed that there was a raid at the hotel on May 12, and said that they were authorised to conduct the raid. “We received information that drugs were being used at the party and we even saw that someone had dropped some powder like substance on the floor during the raid. The substance has been seized and sent for checking,” he said. The ‘substance’, according to people who attended the party, was dry alcohol.

“As for the accusations levelled against the police, the raid was conducted legally and we had formed a team to search the area which included additional officers from the Guindy police. It is not just the narcotics department who is authorised to conduct drug raids here, the local police and Narcotics Intelligence Bureau CID are authorised to do so in Tamil Nadu,” he said.

When asked about the strip search of the attendees, the officer first denied that attendees were strip-searched, and when told that several people had confirmed the same, he said they would look into it.

When TNM contacted hotel Ramada, the manager of Extase, the bar where the party took place, confirmed that there was indeed a drug raid at the venue and that the attendees were strip searched. However, it wasn't directed at the LGBTQ community, he said.

"Police had received false information that the hotel was supplying drugs to its guests. This was the reason for the raid. The pride party happening then was just a coincidence. Unfortunately, the attendees were subjected to searches during the raid," he said.  

While the raid happened on May 12, the police have so far given no evidence of any narcotic, psychotropic or controlled substances, which would warrant an arrest, being found at the party.

"The police seized the attendees' phones, so they couldn't call anyone for help. The hotel management too did not intervene, unlike in usual cases. After the raids, phones were returned but personal information was forcibly collected from the attendees. Now, we have even received complaints that two or three of them were called and asked for sexual favours after this," Arun says.

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