Lawyer Suraj Sanap Explains How Gay Men Are Being Exploited Because of Section 377
- IWB Post
- July 12, 2018
“Being gay is not crime in India, but having gay sex is a criminal offence,” says Suraj Sanap, a legal officer at Lawyers Collective. Paradoxical as it might sound, that is indeed the contradictory state of law and affairs in our country.
Lawyers Collective is a legal group founded by Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. Sanap joined the collective in 2013, the year when Section 377 was reinstated by the Supreme Court.
In an interaction that Suraj recently had with Vice, he shared how owing to its contradictory premises, Section 377 is often misused to blackmail and exploit gay men. He also shared how he has helped these men. Here are extracts from the conversation:
Suraj narrated a 2014 incident to stress how extortion and blackmailing is something that gay men often fall prey to. He said, “In March and April of 2014, we received two complaints of blackmailing and extortion; one was a bisexual male and the other was a gay man. They were both harassed and extorted by the same group of two to three men, who posed as gay men and met them at their home or hotel room.”
“They never had sex, but threatened the men that they would tell their parents if they did not hand over their money, laptop, and watch. This is textbook extortion,” he explained.
Explaining why approaching the police in such cases is a futile exercise, he said, “We went to police; the funny thing is that the police don’t understand these cases and laws. They noted it down as simply robbery. “Ladka aaya, daraya dhamkaya aur paisa lekar gaya. Ye to chori ka case hai, where is extortion and blackmail (A man threatened you and stole your things)” They don’t understand that the threat of telling your parents or the police is blackmail.”
The police thus registered just a robbery case. But they still had hope. Suraj explains, “You have one more chance. When the case goes to court, there is a stage where the charges are framed. You can then convince the judge that this is not robbery but extortion. The two laws for this are IPC 388and 389. The judge filed the case under section 388, extortion by threat of accusation.”
Just the fact that the charges were framed was a big deal for the collective. Suraj shares, “Several journalist from across the country as well as internationally covered it. It was big for us; even if only the charges were framed, it was big. Now there was a judge, who knew that a gay man was standing in front of him and he has to ensure that justice is delivered. That is the milestone for me.”
However, despite their incessant efforts to save these gay men from getting exploited, the Section 377 makes it impossible to help a lot of them. Same happened in the case of a 22-23-year-old gay man, who approached the collective. “He met an older guy online who was in his mid 30s. They’d had consensual sex before but one day our client went to the house of the older man and was sexually assaulted.”
“It was rape. Forced sex is rape, but in India, rape can only happen to women,” says Suraj. Yet they couldn’t help the victim because he had been involved in consensual gay sex, which is a criminal offence as per Section 377.
On being asked about how helpful the police is in such cases, Suraj says, “We never let our clients go to police station alone, because they are not helpful and quite conservative. There is no way to communicate how homophobic they are.”
But the parents are no different and in most of the cases are not supportive at all. “Most of the victims are not out to their parents and that is one of the biggest reasons why the victims do not file criminal charges against the accused.”