Back in the Shadows: The Perils of Being LGBT in India

IndianFlagOn Dec 29, 2014 Newsweek reported: It’s a balmy night on the outskirts of Kolkata, and Sudipta Das is standing in a crowded plaza wearing a black sweater and a rakish scarf. Earlier this evening, Das, 20, told his mother that he’s studying at his aunt’s house. But instead, he has snuck out to meet up with friends.

Like most young Indians, Das loves Lady Gaga and Harry Potter, dreams of attending college abroad and can name-drop Manhattan landmarks, which he knows from watching Sex and the City. Yet  Das—a tall stylish man with soft features—is living a secret life that most Indians wouldn’t consider “normal.”

Wanting to get away from the crowds, he leads me down a dim alleyway until we arrive at a deserted train yard. A group of men in their 20s stroll by and Das eyes them, then quickly looks away. Even here he doesn’t feel safe. A train whistles in the distance, and soon it’s rumbling down the tracks. “It’s OK,” Das says as the men pass. “They won’t know what we’re talking about.”

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Most of his family doesn’t know what we’re talking about either. Like many men and women in India, Das is gay and hiding it, fearing rejection, discrimination and violence. Once, several years ago, Das tried to come out. But his parents wouldn’t hear it. Like many Indians, they thought he had a mental disorder. Several doctors told them otherwise, but they didn’t buy it. Eventually, Das told his mother and father had been cured. “I know there are so many like me, who just want acceptance from their family, but don’t get it,” Das says. “They live a life hiding from a faceless entity, we call society.”

Years ago, it seemed like Indian society was becoming more tolerant. After decades of discrimination, an Indian high court decriminalized homosexuality in 2009. Whereas gays once lived in fear of discrimination or arrest, now they could move freely, report hate crimes and date whomever—with no public displays of affection of course. (This was still India after all, a place where kissing on screen remains taboo in Bollywood.) Progress came in waves and fear began to subside. Many gays in India decided to come out without fear of repercussions.

Today, however, gays and lesbians in India have once again been forced into the shadows. Roughly a year ago, the Supreme Court overruled the lower court’s decision. Now, many gays and lesbians in India live in fear of prosecution. In October, police arrested a 32-year-old engineer in Bangalore after his wife used a hidden camera to catch him having sex with a man. If convicted, he could wind up spending the rest of his life in prison and his parents, who arranged his marriage, could also face criminal charges. Elsewhere in India, a number of cases against gay men are moving through the courts as a police office had set up a string by luring them for dates using an online dating site.

Continued at Back in the Shadows: The Perils of Being LGBT in India.

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