India: The internet is seen as a boon for gay men in small Indian towns to connect with like minded people as well as arrange meetings in safe locations in a country where same-sex relations are not only a socially taboo but illegal.
“Gay men in small towns live a highly closeted life, with hardly any opportunity to meet partners in everyday life. These (online) groups have made it easy for us to reach out to one another in the same city itself,” a BTech student in Bareilly town was quoted by timesofindia.indiatimes.com as saying.
“Unlike in metro cities, there is no social circle of gays living in the smaller and more conservative parts of India,” said another person who did not want to be identified.
Another college student, added: “Importantly, these forums are not just for gays and lesbians. They are for all liberals. We love meeting straight people, too. In a country like India where gay sex is still a criminal offence, their love and support is crucial to us.”
“These clubs have expanded our lives (and) we can meet like-minded people in any of the neighboring districts,” said Saleem Kidwai, an activist fighting for the rights of the LGBT community, adding that the internet has helped diminish both fear and isolation of gay men.
But there is always a risk factor associated with social networking sites as a significant chunk of members give false details to protect their identity, said the timesofindia.indiatimes.com report.
“Often it is the police or people belonging to an extortion racket who are active on these sites. After gaining the trust of a gay man, they either extract money or seek sexual favor from him,” said a 25-year-old Saharanpur resident.
India has a British-era colonial Section 377 law that criminalizes consensual adult same-sex relations with punishments that can amount to life imprisonment.
Gay rights activists maintain that the law besides being discriminatory leaves the LGBT community open to blackmail, harassment and persecution by authorities as well as criminals.
This is particularly true in small towns. Once while walking through a deserted road in Tulsipur, a 28-year-old hugged his friend who had come visiting from Delhi. A policeman who had been following them recorded it on his mobile phone and went on to extort 15,000 rupees (about US$245) from the young men on six occasions.
Another gay couple from Rampur, who want to move in together, said no one will rent an apartment to them. “We have no option but to live on the outskirt of the city,” one of them said.
Besides legal censure, same-sex relations are seen as a social taboo and gay people face stigma in India, where hugging, kissing and any form of public display of affection by even straight couples is strongly frowned upon.