Online dating exposes India's gays to new dangers

July 09, 2015 09:40
Internet dating has made it easy for gay men to meet but also exposed them to online predators. Photo:

Rohit, a gay Indian maritime engineer, met a man through an online dating service during a visit to Mumbai last year.

When they were inside his hotel room, two other men barged in and attacked the 33-year-old.

They took his laptop, a gold chain, camera and his ATM card, which they used to empty his bank account, Rohit told the Wall Street Journal.

Before leaving, they warned him that if he went to the police, they would file criminal charges against him for having sex with a man. They also threatened to tell his colleagues and family that he is gay.

“I was dead scared,” Rohit told the newspaper. He asked that his surname not be used as he didn't want to be publicly identified as a homosexual.

Rohit's terrifying experience is not an isolated incident in India, where gay sex is a crime.

Since gay sex has been recriminalized more than a year ago, homosexuals have increasingly become targets of robbery and extortion, gay men and activists told the Journal.

Incidents such as the one Rohit experienced have been fueled by the rise of internet dating, which has made it easy for gay men to meet but also exposed them to online predators.

Towards the end of 2013, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the law against gay sex, which dates back to the British colonial era, wasn't unconstitutional and could only be amended or repealed by legislation. The decision overturned a lower court ruling in 2009 that made consensual gay sex legal.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, which is strongly influenced by Hindu nationalist principles, has not made any effort to change the law, known as Section 377 after its place in the Indian penal code.

Gay rights groups say there is little risk that a gay man will be convicted under the law.

Ashok Row Kavi, an gay rights activist, said there hasn’t been a single case of prosecution solely under Section 377.

Still, he said: “The law has created an atmosphere of fear. It’s a powerful tool in the hands of extortionists.”

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