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Fear of moral policing back to haunt LGBTI

Section 377 identifies every sexual act other than the penile-vaginal intercourse as 'unnatural'.

Written by Srinath Rao | Mumbai | Published: December 12, 2013 2:13 am

The apex court’s judgement on Section 377 has again instilled fear amongst the Lesbian,Gay,Bisexual Transgender and Inter-sex (LGBTI) community of becoming an easy target of police excesses,but the state’s top cop said the section has hardly been used on “consenting partners”. Under the Indian Penal Code,Section 377 identifies every sexual act other than the penile-vaginal intercourse as “unnatural”.

“Although I have no statistics handy,I cannot recall any case where a person has been targeted because of his sexual orientation,” said Sanjeev Dayal,Maharashtra State Director General of Police.

However,for the community representatives,the police claims are not very assuring. If not direct criminalisation,harassment and public shaming is a day-to-day affair,says Shailaja,a transgender and a sex-worker. She alleges she has to pay police ‘hafta’ regularly. “Non-payment of hafta means fear of being picked up in false cases,being beaten up or sexually exploited by the police. With the SC’s judgement,we will become an easier target,” she said.

Joint Commissioner of Mumbai Police (Law and Order) Sadanand Date said “force” is a crucial point while booking someone. “Unless it is a forced act,there is barely a time when someone has been booked and termed criminal. At least not in Mumbai.”

For Pooja,40,a commercial sex worker who was attacked by a man,police apathy has meant her attacker continues to roam free. “In June last year,a young man came to the spot where I solicit,and demanded sex. I refused and he was angry. Then he produced a flower and told me smell it. When I bent to smell it,he took out a blade,slashed me on the neck and fled. My friends rushed me to Sion Hospital. The police registered an FIR,but made no efforts to trace the man and closed the case. The man continues to visit the spot every six months,” she said.

While the urban LGBTI crowd might not become a daily target of policing and brutality,it is the vulnerable community that would be further marginalised,says Meenu from LABIA (Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action),a Mumbai-based activist group. “I as an individual coming from a privileged background might not come in contact with the police and be targeted,but those coming from the working class and underprivileged sections stand to be targeted,” she said.

Maharashtra might not have had any case filed against consenting,non-gender confirming couples,but that has not stopped the police and public from targeting the community,said 30-year-old Manisha,a transgender and a volunteer with Humsafar Trust,who faces harasment almost every day. “A couple of months ago,I boarded a train to Wadala from Kurla with a valid ticket. When I entered the ladies compartment,a woman grabbed my hand and told me that I should get off. As the train pulled in at the Chunabhatti,she tried to push me out.”

In some cases,families approach the police and seek help in getting their son or daughter married forcibly. “I have seen many transgenders being forced by their parents to marry. After the 2009 verdict,these had begun to come down. Society had begun to accept us. This will be reversed now,” said an Urmi Jadhav,another transgender activist with Humsafar Trust.

sukanya.shetty@expressindia.com

srinath.rao@expressindia.com

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