Fed up of being targeted and blackmailed by ‘corrupt’ police officers, increasing number of gays in Uttar Pradesh have taken to online gay clubs to connect with each other and to arrange meetings in more secure locations that would be impossible for nosy policemen to pinpoint.
28-year-old Aman remembers how when hugged his friend who had come visiting from Delhi a few months ago, a local cop who had been following them recorded it on his mobile phone and would use it to extort Rs 15,000 from the boys on six occasions.
It is for this reason that several online membership-only platforms have mushroomed everywhere, from Ballia to Saharanpur and beyond where the couples can stay away from the prying eyes of cops. It also comes as a boon for these men living isolated lives, haunted by perpetual worries of being found out in small neighbourhoods.
“Unlike in metro cities, there is no social circle of gays living in the smaller and more conservative parts of India,” said Animesh Kumar. “These clubs have expanded our lives. We can meet like-minded people in any of the neighbouring districts, and further if we are willing to travel.” Saleem Kidwai, an activist fighting for rights of LGBT community, says the internet has helped diminish both fear and isolation of homosexuals.
One such active user, Ritesh, a B.Tech student in Bareilly, was happy to find others like him in town. He said, “Earlier I used to think I am the only gay man in my city. But recently I realized there are many more. 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.”
Another user, Sameer, a native of Pilibhit and a B.Sc 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.”
But, hooking up online has its own share of troubles. “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 favour from him,” said Deepak, 25, a Saharanpur resident.