Thursday, January 12, 2006

Protests In India Over Gay Arrests 

From Reuters, with some relevant background links added:

"NEW DELHI - Gay activists held a rare and noisy protest in the Indian capital on Thursday demanding the release of four men arrested for homosexuality and running an online gay club.

Homosexuality is banned in India under a 19th century law but is prevalent undercover. About two dozen gay men and women and their supporters gathered outside the New Delhi guesthouse of the northern Uttar Pradesh state which ordered the arrest of the four last week. The protesters from the largely closeted gay community waved banners and placards which read: "My sexuality, My right," "Queer and Proud," and "I am a man. I love a man. That's my only crime."

"The entire case is fabricated," said Guam Bhang, a gay rights activist. "None of the men were having public sex. They have been arrested simply because they are homosexual." Human rights and anti-AIDS groups have slammed the arrests saying such discrimination will hurt the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"Criminalization of people most at risk of HIV infection may increase stigma and discrimination, ultimately fuelling the AIDS epidemic," UNAIDS India coordinator Denis Braun told Reuters. India has 5.1 million people with HIV/AIDS, the second largest number after South Africa. New York-based Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, protesting against the arrests.

"Lucknow police have a shameful record of harassing gay men as well as non-governmental organizations that work with them," said Human Rights Watch
official Scott Long in a statement. In a similar incident in 2001, Long said, police in Lucknow raided the offices of two non-government organizations working on HIV/AIDS prevention and arrested four staff. They were accused of running a gay sex racket. An outcry by activists led to their release after a month.

India's gay community is trying to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding homosexuality in a nation where public hugging or kissing among heterosexuals invites angry stares and lewd comments. "I am queer and I know how difficult it is," said Pramado Menon. "We have to hide our lives." In the past year, three lesbian couples have hit the headlines as they struggled to stay together despite public pressure for them to split up.

Although activists have been pressing for the scrapping of the anti-homosexuality law, the government said last year society was not ready to accept legalized homosexual behavior."

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