Bareilly: Once while walking through the deserted banks of the Rapti in Tulsipur, Balrampur district of Uttar Pradesh, 28-year-old Aman hugged his friend who had come visiting from Delhi. A local cop who had been following them recorded it on his mobile phone. The cop would go on to extort Rs 15,000 from the boys on six occasions.
Now, though, Aman and thousands of others like him across UP’s small towns have become smarter, taking the help of numerous online gay clubs not only to connect with each other but also to arrange meetings in more secure locations that would be impossible for nosy policemen to pinpoint.
There is one, for instance, called the ‘Rampur Gay Club’ where Hitesh and Subhash met. Then there are others for gay residents of Rohilkhand, Allahabad, Bareilly and even Sitapur. Such membership-only platforms have mushroomed everywhere, from Ballia to Saharanpur and beyond. And it’s come 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 BTech student in Bareilly, 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 BSc 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 everything is not hunky-dory. There is always a risk factor associated with social networking sites as a significant chunk of members give false details to protect their identity. “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.
Outside the internet, life continues to be tough. When the influential family of Jafar, 23, who lives in Kamerie tehsil of Rampur, learnt that their son is gay, they admitted him to drug rehabilitation centre in Moradabad to “distance him from other abnormal online friends”. Recalling the tale of horror, Jafar said, “My family thought that if I am punished in this way, I will become straight. Within three months my health deteriorated and they asked me to come back when they realized that I would die soon.”
Another gay couple Junaid and Nikky of 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,” Nikky said, sadness writ large on his face.”
(Some names have been changed on request to protect their identity)
by Priyangi Agarwal,TNN
Source – The Times of India