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AIDS workers are "regularly beaten, blackmailed, extorted, threatened, and sometimes even sexually assaulted and/or raped by policemen on duty."

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India Condemned For Anti-Gay Abuses

by Kelly Cogswell

APRIL 12, 2002. India's reputation as a thriving democracy owes more than a little to its being in a neighborhood where military dictatorships and theocracies are a dime a dozen. In fact, reality often falls short of the promise. The police force, according to Amnesty International, is "identified with torture, corruption, and other abuses." Human rights abuses most often single out socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society.

Though a sodomy law is not specifically on the books, lesbian, gay, and transgender people, in particular, are prey to all kinds of discrimination, both informal and institutionalized. Much of it is at the hands of the police, abetted by Section 377 of the India Penal Code which prohibits "Unnatural offenses ... against the order of nature with any man, woman, animal."

Nevertheless, last May, two lesbians took the bold step of holding a Hindu wedding ceremony in their small town of Ambikapur, in the state of Chattisgarh. They faced outrage from their neighbors, and eviction from their landlord, but Jaya Verma and Tanuja Chauhan vowed to spend their lives together.

State-sanctioned violence
Many lgbt people in India face not just fury, but outright violence. This week, Aditya Bondyopadhyay, a gay lawyer working for lgbt rights there, presented a report on the harassment, arrest, and detention of sexual minorities in India to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), this is only the third time ever that direct testimonies of abuse based on sexual orientation have been heard by this high-level body.

Many of the abuses are directed against AIDS workers, often gay or transgender themselves, who are "regularly beaten, blackmailed, extorted, threatened, and sometimes even sexually assaulted and/or raped by policemen on duty," said Mr. Bondyopadhyah.

"The Indian government must ensure that legitimate health interventions are protected by the law," he declared. "India encourages outreach to sexual minorities through its Ministry of Health — then punishes and abuses the outreach workers through the police and the Ministry of Justice, because homosexual conduct remains against the law. This double-dealing is dangerous and appalling."

The Lucknow 4
The most egregious example was the "Lucknow 4" case. Shortly after India supported the inclusion of lgbt people in the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in June 2001, police in Lucknow, India, the capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, raided the offices of two NGOs working on AIDS prevention with gay men, and arrested four workers.

They were charged with a laundry list of offenses including Section 377's conspiring to commit "unnatural sexual acts," criminal conspiracy and pornography. According to Bondyopadhyah's report, while under arrest, the four "were beaten, denied food, forced to drink sewer water, abused regularly, and refused treatment when they got sick."

Bondyopadhyah, who came from Delhi to Lucknow to work with the defendants, reported that he was kept under surveillance by the police. His email was monitored, and an internet café he was using was raided by Lucknow's Senior Superintendent of Police along with 30 officers. "I am convinced that the intention was to detain me in the café and arrest me under false charges," he wrote. "I had luckily left the cafÈ a few minutes earlier to buy cigarettes."

On more than one occasion, the same Senior Superintendent of Police, a Mr. BB Bakshi, publicly stated that he would like to "eradicate homosexuality which is against Indian culture."

After an international outcry, three of the workers were released after 45 days; one was held for seven months without the possibility of bail.

The Third and Second Sex
In his report to the Commission, Bondyapadhyay also described how the medical establishment in India, including government-run medical institutions, continues to diagnose homosexuality as a mental disorder and "treat" it with electric shock "aversion therapy".

Bondyapadhyay added that Hijras, or intersex or transgendered people, face a unique set of problems. Often refused identity papers because they decline to check either male or female — they consider themselves a third gender — they have no civil status, receive no medical treatment or social benefits, and are denied public housing. Only recently were they issued voters cards. They are often targeted by police, raped, and harassed.

Bondyapadhyay also explained that lesbians are in the greatest danger of violence from their families if they "express their sexuality or refuse marriage." There were reported rapes of lesbians by both male and female police. "In the year 1999-2000 a Malayalam-language newspaper reported 7 suicides of lesbians in Kerala State." Kerala is in the south.

Finally, Bondyapadhyay urged the Commission to call upon the Indian government "to ensure that the human rights of all in India are respected, protected, and promoted; that the practices of discrimination, arbitrary arrest, invasion of privacy, and torture all end; and that the pall of criminality hanging over the heads of this segment of its population is immediately removed."

Gay in Fundamentalist Hindu India

Related links:

For Mr. Bondyopadhyay's complete remarks.

For Amnesty's Annual Report 2000 INDIA

For the informative and entertaining

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

For Complete Coverage Asia

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