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What news of a 'man drugged and raped' says about being gay in India

Vikram Johri
Vikram JohriJan 05, 2017 | 07:45

What news of a 'man drugged and raped' says about being gay in India

In an incident that highlights the pervasiveness of sexual assault in India, a man was allegedly assaulted by a classmate (another male) on December 28 in Delhi. The incident came to light when the victim shared the details of the assault with a US-based friend who posted them on social media (after masking the name of the victim). The story has since been picked up by Indian Express.

Assaults where women are the victims routinely make the news, the most recent case being that of revelers harassed on New Year’s Eve in Bangalore. It is far rarer to come across cases of male victims — and not because those don’t happen. Male victims shy away from reporting the crime for fear of ostracisation by family and society at large. If they are gay, as the man in the Delhi incident reportedly was, they may not want to speak out for fear that it will out them. The police, on the other hand, can be deeply insensitive, as has been repeatedly reported in assault cases involving the transgender.

The law on unnatural sex “against the order of nature”, Section 377, applies to anal sex, and technically, the victim in the December 28 case can file a complaint of rape under the Section. It is ironical that a law that the LGBT community has been rallying against can come to the aid of a male victim of sexual assault. But this option is easier advocated than exercised. Attitudes towards alternative sexuality, bolstered by grim representations in the media, affect us all, including the law upholders. Unless one has institutional support from, say, an NGO, it can be hellish to approach the police with a complaint of sexual assault.

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As homosexuals fight to be allowed the right to love, the last thing they need is self-hate. [Photo: PTI]

One of the best films of last year was Pink, a scathing attack on the culture of silence surrounding sexual assault in India. The story of the December 28 victim is, in some ways, similar to the drawn-out agony of the Pink girls. Just as the girls had been friends with the perpetrators, the victim in the December 28 case was on a night out with his assailant who drugged him and then raped him.

In Pink, the girls finally found redress in a court of law — and Shoojit Sircar deftly incorporated a laudable lesson on women’s rights and agency into the film. Pink worked because it did not derive its strength from the justice system; it spoke to our collective conscience.

In India, the debate over sexual assault often gets mixed up with propriety of dress, behaviour and actions. Speaking about the Bangalore New Year’s Eve incident, Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi said the onus was on the girls to dress modestly and return home in time. We outrage at his callousness, but perhaps we also agree with him at some level. We ask that our girls stay indoors or dress conservatively, for that great beast called the male libido lurks around the corner.

But two men? Such a different dynamic, we titter. Don’t they have the freedom to claim the night, the lonesome street, the uninhabited corner? The violence that we conjure now is of a different kind — of establishing turf. And yet, if an impropriety were to occur, what are the chances — even given the twisted protection Section 377 affords the victim — of redressal? The assault subverts our received wisdom and our convenient assumptions about sexual violence.

Worse, the December 28 case does not bow to even these black-and-white categories. The assault took place inside a house, after the victim had been drugged by someone who must have, at the beginning of the evening, seemed a friend, and then he was assaulted by more than one person. From his account, it is clear the victim suffers, not merely on account of the assault and that it was perpetrated by someone he knew. He suffers because he wonders if he could have avoided this if he were different, less gay perhaps, or not gay at all.

He is filled with self-loathing. He wonders if he should perhaps “shut down”. Not expect to be touched or made love to. Who knows what mind-numbing tragedies litter that street! He wonders if this would have happened to him if he were more masculine. Perhaps he could have taken them down. He knows he was drugged, but perhaps…

Why sexual assault happens is an old debate. Some say it is markedly higher in repressed societies where public expressions of sexuality are frowned upon. There does seem some truth to this analysis given how the subcontinent, in spite of its orthodox public attitudes to sexuality, routinely tops consumption of porn globally.

When young men and women do not find suitable avenues for channeling their sexual energy, the development of social neuroses is not entirely surprising. What the December 28 incident tells us is that this phenomenon is not restricted to heterosexual assault. When gay relationships have to be conducted on the sly, some bad apples within the community will exploit the crevices to wreak emotional and physical havoc.

At the very least, it is important that this case came to light. Like a similar case from 2015, the victim’s story benefitted from its sharing on social media. It is hoped that these stories will give other male victims of sexual assault courage to come forward and share their stories. Homosexuals have a long battle ahead in this country. As they fight to be allowed the right to love, the last thing they need is self-hate on account of some d*ckwad somewhere not keeping his zipper closed.

Last updated: January 05, 2017 | 18:02
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