December 11, 2014 / 5:39 PM / 3 years ago

Persecution of India's sexual minorities surges after court ruling: activists

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - There has been a surge in crimes against India’s sexual minorities, including rape, assault, blackmail and harassment, since the country’s top court reinstated a ban on gay sex a year ago, activists said on Thursday.

The Supreme Court, ending four years of decriminalization that had helped bring homosexuality into the open in this deeply conservative country, ruled in December last year that only parliament could change a colonial-era law banning homosexual sex.

Activists said the ruling had resulted in a marked increase in the persecution of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people, forcing many to conceal their sexual identity.

“Across the country, we are getting many more reports about threats, intimidation, police harassment, rapes and especially cases of blackmail and extortion,” said Abhina Aher, program manager for Pehchan, a charity providing healthcare for sexual minorities.

“People have gone back into the closet after the Supreme Court ruling. There is no doubt about that. There is so much more fear than before.”

Aher, who was speaking at an event marking the first anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, said her organization had recorded 2,064 cases of violence against sexual minorities in the past year, but had no figure for previous years.

In the past year, police have raided homes and arrested LGBT people, while extortion rackets by people in internet chat rooms posing as gays to entrap people were mushrooming, she said.

Victims from New Delhi, and states such as Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, used the event to tell stories of abuse and discrimination since the Supreme Court ruling.

One transgender woman spoke of being pulled into a car by four men at night and gang raped. When she reported the attack, she was treated like a criminal by police, she said.

A gay man told of being entrapped by a man he met in a gay internet chat room. When they met in a hotel room, the man stole his wallet and extorted money from him, saying he would tell the victim’s colleagues and family about his sexual identity.

“I didn’t know what to do and whether to go to the police. I was scared ... what they would do to me,” said the man, who did not wish to be identified, but said he was from the business city of Mumbai.

In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled unconstitutional a law dating back to 1860 that prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” and lifted the ban on sex between consenting adults of the same sex.

The Supreme Court threw out that decision, saying that only parliament could change Section 377 of the penal code, widely interpreted to refer to homosexual sex. Violation of the law can be punished with up to 10 years in jail.

The Supreme Court’s move shocked rights activists, who had expected the court simply to rubber-stamp the High Court ruling, and prompted the United Nations to call it a “significant step backwards for India.”

Reporting by Nita Bhalla; Editing by Tim Pearce

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