Over 200 people came together in Bangalore on November 11 to condemn police action and arrest of 13 members of the queer community on the night of November 3 in Hassan, Karnataka. This was the largest single usage of the draconian Sec 377 in independent India.
The protesters condemned the manner of the police action, where the suspects were picked up in the middle of the night. The police also charged the suspects under a host of acts, including a homophobic archaic Karnataka state act and Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which has been read down by the Delhi High Court in 2009.
“The police began the midnight operation by going to the house of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement’s programme director and pressurised him to identify the project staff members. From there, the programme officer was taken to the house of a queer person, who was in turn coerced to give the names of other sexual minorities. Using this method, the police arrested 5 people from their homes and 8 others from other public places,” said Mallappa, President of Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum, which has formed a coalition to fight harassment of the queer community.
“The arrests and methods used clearly indicate the intention of spreading fear and terror among the gender minority community and the huge visibility in the media resulting in shaming and humiliating the arrested persons,” he added.
The protestors demanded a withdrawal of all proceedings under section 377 of the IPC, the suspension and subsequent prosecution of Ravi D Channanavar(SP), Mahesh JE(PSI), Krishna SK(PSI) and other responsible police officers and compensation to all arrested.
The incident has brought the ugly specter of Section 377 to the fore again. “The arrests are a reminder of the arbitrary power vested in Section 377 in local police officers and hence the urgent need for the repeal of this draconian provision,” said human rights activist Manohar Elavarthi of Sangama.
The entire episode began with a FIR filed by a 21-year-old college student, alleging that he was exploited and coerced into sex by 6 people in 2011 and he contracted HIV/AIDS from the sex. A friend of the student told DNA that, “He was made to go to different members almost every day for the last two years. My friend was though habitually not a homosexual, but in need of money, was driven into the group initially. But then, the gay community here took him into their circles.”
One FIR was filed against five people for the alleged exploitation. Two other FIRs were filed against eight people for “public sex”.
However, queer groups have rubbished the charges; the people under police custody don’t have AIDS, says an activist. Moreover, they point out that the complaint was filed two years after the alleged coercion and suspect that the complainant was himself under duress when filing the FIR. They also point out inconsistencies in the complaint.
However, as Arvind Narrain points out in Firstpost, there is a silver lining to the episode. Unlike previous experiences of Naz in Lucknow, most of the accused have been released on bail already. There is clearly a long way to go.