September 06, 2018. A date that is not to be forgotten. Hundreds and thousands of members of the LGBTQ community in India cleaved out of their societal-fear bubbles and took to the streets to celebrate their triumph for breaking the shackles of a 158-year-old law that criminalised gay sex. Our streets were flooded with colours and happy faces. But little did those faces know that what they had gotten rid off was only the garb of the demon, the actual evil was awaiting them, angrier than earlier, for it had been stripped off its entitlement.
Yes, homophobia continues to persist. Parents continue to admonish and in some cases abandon their children if they learn that their child is gay. People continue to look down upon the transgender community.
Reports suggest that incidents of catfishing and extortion on queer-dating apps have shot up after decriminalisation of Section 377.
Gaurang, 20, found a match on Grindr, a leading queer-dating app. After talking to each other for a while, they exchanged pictures. “He had a profile with three pictures and when I asked for more pictures of him, he sent me more pictures. I didn’t have any pictures on my profile, but when he asked for my pictures I sent them to him,” says Gaurang while talking to The Logical Indian.
“We spoke for a long time, I kinda felt the connection. We used to talk a lot on calls,” he recalls. Later, when Gaurang wanted to connect with him on social media, “he told me that he was closeted and he wouldn’t like to share his social media profiles with me and I was fine with that because I respected his privacy.” “Whenever I used to bring up the topic of meeting up, he always pushed it, saying that he’s busy during the weekend or whatever.”
Gaurang sensed something was amiss. After having developed feelings for him, Gaurang later learnt that it was a fake account and that the other person had posted fake pictures. This left Gaurang shattered. “I was scared because he could use my pictures to create another fake profile.” The incident had an impact on Gaurang. “Now I don’t trust people on Grindr at all. It’ll take me some time to get comfortable and willing again,” Gaurang says.
A lot of users on queer-dating apps, like Gaurang are catfished, ridiculed and sometimes abused also. Gaurang also recalls how on a queer-dating app, somebody’s bio read “girly guys and crossdressers stay away”. Some individuals infiltrate into the app only to bully and ridicule the queer community.
Apoorv (name-changed), 31, met somebody on Grindr. They both built a good rapport and Apporv agreed to switch to WhatsApp, after exchanging numbers with him. He soon asked Apoorv out on a date and Apporv agreed. He kept on changing the meeting-point and finally zeroed in on a secluded park. “I was nervously waiting for him when suddenly two men approached me from behind, held me tightly and started raining abuses,” recalls Apoorv. These two extortionists were joined by two more men and he was taken to an unknown location where he was robbed and raped. He also recalls that he was forcibly fed a liquid which rendered him unconscious. When he regained his consciousness, he was beaten up, raped and thrown. He lost his phone and 25,000 from his ATM card. For months together, Apoorv was suicidal. The caustic memory made it extremely difficult for him to trust anybody. (reported by News 18)
Many like Apporv have been assaulted and extorted. Not all of them speak out. They fear opening up about their sexuality.
Tarun (name-changed), a 24-year-old student, met somebody on Blued, another queer dating app. “He seemed like a total boy next door,” says Tarun. “We spoke about everything from work to family to sex.” After two weeks of chatting, Tarun travelled to Govandi, a suburb of Mumbai to meet the guy he has been talking to. But after he went there, he noticed that the guy had company. They took away his phone and his money. They even broke his nose. “I thought of fighting back, but my odds were bad. They hit me twice in my face. They kept abusing me, calling me “meetha” and “gud” (homophobic slang). When my nose started bleeding profusely, they let me go.” This incident prodded Tarun to confide in his mother about his sexuality. Later, he tried filing a case but the police denied to register one, as Tarun was unsure of the exact location in which the attack took place. (reported by Vice)
These are just three of the hundreds of instances of atrocious cruelties that the queer community has been facing silently. We as a society have shrouded this community in utter pain and agony, simply for bearing sexuality that doesn’t conform to societal expectations. It is this narrow-mindedness of ours that fuels the courage and audacity of these extortionists. The moment we liberate ourselves of all our biases and accept our fellow-beings for who they are, these extortionists will be left spineless.
There’s an urgent necessity to strengthen the user-verification in all these dating apps. Tinder, one of the most popular dating apps and Grindr have a provision to link either the Facebook or Instagram account to boost one’s credibility in the app. Obligating the users to link their Facebook/Instagram account may make it easier for users to identify catfishers. We tried to build a profile on Grindr. All it took us was 30 seconds, non-existent email address and some pictures of any stranger to set up a full-fledged account with all the potential to fool any user on the app.
Delta app, India’s first homegrown LGBTQ dating app seems to have come up with a groundbreaking solution. It has introduced “Trust-Score”, which a user can build by linking one’s social media profiles and by uploading photo id and other documents. This lets the users know whom to trust and whom to be sceptical about.
It’s high time all these dating app platforms acknowledge the cruelty being meted out to their users and take up measures to curb them. It’s also time, we work towards creating a more inclusive society. A society where one need not hide one’s sexuality.
We might have won the legal battle, but we’re yet to win the social one.