Trigger warning: This article contains mention of suicide, bullying and violence.
With the end of June, we bid farewell to another pride month full of ‘rainbow-washing’ and ‘tokenism’. It makes me wonder if anyone genuinely wants to initiate the conversation on equity or if inclusivity is just another marketing strategy when queer rights in the country are literally non-existent.
It was only in 2018 that the discriminatory Section 377 was struck down by the Supreme Court. A thought that has been ricocheting around my head lately is that the more LGBTQIA+ Indians come out and claim spaces, the more vulnerable they become to hate crimes. The sad reality is that there is no proper law to protect them.
Indulging into self-harm, eating disorders, depression and becoming suicidal, are a few things queer Indians endure due to the emotional and mental tumult they face.
Last year, one of India’s first trans radio jockeys, Anannyah Kumari Alex, died by suicide after a sex reassignment surgery gone wrong. Subsequently, in October last year, an elderly trans woman was killed by a young man after he sexually assaulted her. In 2020, in the capital city of New Delhi, a trans activist was shot dead in front of her home.
Despite multiple instances of violence toward the queer community, the National Crime Records Bureau has no firm statistics on violence against queer people in India.
Recently, we lost yet another young life to queerphobia. A toxic culture of bullying and harassment continues to thrive unchecked in our educational institutions and no steps have been taken by the government to prevent it. As I go through news articles and television debates around the passing away of the DPS Faridabad student, I can only hope that this will serve as an urgent wake-up call for reforms that are long overdue.
LGBTQIA+ people endure violence and hate every day just for living their lives. Most of them don’t report it to the police or tell anyone. Police brutality and vilification by them against LGBTQIA+ people is a serious problem.
Who do we need protection from if our very protectors turn into vultures?
“In 2017, I was assaulted by eight men at 5:30 am. I never went to the police station and buried this incident inside of me. I live with PTSD and anxiety now. I am always afraid when I’m walking on the streets,” says Chandan*.
There has also been an increase in the number of crimes taking place via dating apps. Since the lockdown, several people with criminal intentions have joined queer dating apps only to dupe and loot members of the community. There have been many problems with gay dating apps before, such as profiles seeking women. These profiles try to take over our safe spaces and drive us out of where we belong. I won’t blame them because they seem to be very uninformed about what a gay dating app is.
A few days ago, I stumbled upon a YouTube video where this person claimed that you can get women on gay social networking app Blued. The community has always been threatened by the presence of such men – in 2020, a gay man was murdered in Delhi by two men he met on a dating app. Luckily, the police caught them overnight, but that’s not always the case. The community should really open its eyes and look for immediate red flags, and in most cases, the red flags are large enough to be noticed.
“I was sitting at a public park at 7 pm, the police showed up from the back gate and started interrogating me. They abruptly became violent and asked for my phone. They found a queer dating app on my phone, which I use to socialise and started asking me uncomfortable questions. They asked me to pay them money or said they would arrest me,” says Aakarshit, who is from Bhopal.
“I was questioned in a vague manner by the police. They hurled homophobic slurs at me and asked if I was a girl or a boy,” says Neelesh, who is based out of Jabalpur.
“I was blackmailed by a guy and I filed a complaint against him. The police refused to believe me and said I needed more proof to back my claims. The media showed up at my house and my family didn’t want me to push the matter any further,” says Robin from Indore.
“To combat this, sensitisation of the media and law officials is crucial. I have experienced a number of attacks just for being trans. In a recent one, a bunch of guys just started bashing me in a park with sticks in broad daylight. I was assaulted and the men screamed transphobic slurs at me. I somehow gathered the strength to go to the police, but they didn’t take the case seriously. They claimed I was wasting their time. I have never felt so helpless. It’s scary that you can be treated like that just for existing as you are. After all that happened to me, I had no support mentally or emotionally – nobody to go to,” says Reetu, who is from Lakhimpur, Uttar Pradesh.
Most people in India think that these crimes are justified because they’re happening with queer and trans people and most of them neglect it. The media needs to report with more sensitivity and sometimes with anonymity because even today, so many LGBTQIA+ individuals live inside the closet. Subsequently, if a queer or a trans person goes to the police station to file a complaint, the police should believe them and take necessary action.
For how long are we going to allow ourselves to be consumed by silence? Every other day, we wake up to gruesome stories of rape, murders and violence and nobody is doing anything.
An incident that happened with me very recently in my own locality. Around 9:30 pm, four guys tried to steal my phone. They hurled transphobic slurs at me and physically harmed me. Later, they blackmailed me to give them money. I didn’t want to lose my phone, so I agreed to transfer Rs 2,500 online so that I could get their account details. After getting the money, they allowed me to go. I then I rushed some local guys for help. Fortunately, they managed to catch three of them, and I got my money back.
The very next day, early morning, the news broke out in the entire locality and at my home like wildfire. As usual, the whole blame fell on me. My dad, along with my brother, went and confronted them all again and brought them to apologise to me. I knew right away that this wouldn’t change anything and that society would still raise fingers at me.
“On average, each day, I get verbally abused and humiliated. On average, once a week, I get abused offline as well as online. On average, once a month, I get physically assaulted. You can choose to be ignorant about this, but all the issues I face in my life are because of men and toxic masculinity. It’s easy to shout and say ‘not all men’. It’s easy to call feminism a cancer. Because men are insecure to lose their privileges. If you consider yourself a ‘good man’ but your best is just limited to your mother and sister, then you are also a part of the problem,” says Anjali from Mumbai.
Unless queer and trans people are empowered to report what’s happened to them, the systems won’t change. But for that to happen, we need a significant change in how the police and the media deal with queer stories.
I would urge people who have been victims of these crimes to come forward as soon as possible. You are not alone, things will be better soon. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
There’s so much work still to be done. Marriage equality may be a progressive step for the community, but there are other pressing issues, such as an anti-discrimination law and greater acceptance of queer individuals who live outside of cities.
Sadly, India on July 7 abstained from the resolution that renewed the mandate for an independent expert to monitor the protection of LGBTQIA+ rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The resolution was adopted with 23 countries in favour, 17 against, and seven abstentions. It was one of the most keenly-fought resolutions in recent times at the UNHRC, with 13 amendments brought by the bloc of Islamic countries to modify the text.
The Centre is delaying equal marriage rights and we live in a world where queer people can’t donate blood. The possibility of queer futurity is deeply subdued in the Indian context and our society needs to get up from its wake and do something.
Aditya Tiwari is an award-winning Indian writer and gay rights activist. He tweets at @aprilislush.