Thanks to Orinam, a Chennai-based LGBT support group, we have learnt about an incident that happened at IISc last month. Tushar, a student at one of India's most reputed colleges, was threatened by a fellow student who demanded money in exchange for not outing him.
When Tushar refused, the student posted a note on the hostel notice board, outing him:
To a gay person, being outed publicly without his consent can be a source of extreme stress, but Tushar handled the situation with exemplary equanimity. With the help of friends and other supporters on campus, he posted a counter-note on the hostel notice board:
Tushar ends his note with "I do believe that you're under the impression that because of my sexuality I can't approach authorities but here's the genius of your plan: since you outed me, I don't care anymore." This is the most heartwarming story I have read in recent times about someone facing LGBT discrimination telling his perpetrator to go take an effing hike. Ironically, but beautifully, the culprit's posting the note freed Tushar to come out, nullifying the culprit's designs.
That the culprit thought he could not only extort money from Tushar but also get away with outing him publicly gives us a measure of the psychology at work. Gayness continues to be associated with secrecy, as something that must be hidden. The culprit was playing into this mentality when he approached Tushar with his demand for money, and then took it one step further by posting the note, hoping Tushar would break down from the public outing.
Tushar's case, thanks to his indomitable spirit, has ended well, but the situation he found himself in is not uncommon among LGBT persons. As several reports such as this one indicate, gay people in India routinely face extortion and threats to life and property if they do not want their sexuality disclosed. Due to the illegality of being a homosexual, or more accurately, of homosexual acts, under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, many gay men expose themselves to danger when meeting people through meetup sites or apps. Criminals posing as gay meet these men and when alone with them, rob or physically hurt them. Sometimes they work in gangs with the active connivance of the police.
What is chilling about Tushar's case is that it happened in an institute of national repute. Like the IITs and IIMs, IISc is one of the few centres of education in this country that we can be truly proud of. In the Times Higher Education rankings of the best universities globally, it has been placed 99th. For an event like this to have happened there should therefore give us pause. It shows the hollowness of the casual connection we make between education and enlightenment.
Clearly, there are systemic issues with the way LGBT rights are approached in this country. On his part, Tushar has gotten in touch with the IISc administration so that the culprit may be nabbed and action taken against him. At the time of writing, there was no word from the institute on what action it plans to take. If the IISc authorities do not take swift action, they would be proving true the culprit's contention that LGBT persons are on their own when they become victims of intolerance and rank bigotry.
The good news is that there are a number of LGBT support groups such as Queer Campus and Saathi active in educational institutes today. Even so, we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that their efforts at sensitisation are enough. Unless the administration makes the effort to provide an enabling ecosystem within campus and unless it is seen taking action against cases of injustice, nothing much will have been achieved. This is true as well for other public spaces where LGBT persons face discrimination. The law is one area of dispute and hopefully will be rectified sooner than later, but it is not all.
From the workplace to public transport, from hospitals to cinema halls, we need to ensure that a culture of acceptance pervades our society.