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India: A gay rape victim speaks out

Sep 12, 2013

Across India, there are gay and queer people like young Chander, who are waging lonely battles to keep their sanity and come to terms with the violence they have faced, writes Krishna.

Nagpur: Rape - lately, this four letter word has been appearing with frightening regularity in the Indian media as gruesome cases, including the gangrape of a Mumbai photojournalist recently, get reported widely. These rape survivors try and pick up the pieces of their lives, deal with the physical and psychological consequences and fight for justice with stoic perseverance.

“But what happens when a gay person is subjected to a similar act of violence? Does anyone even care when his or her dignity is undermined? In most instances, when such a subject is ever broached, most often it is the victim who ends up becoming the butt of myriad jokes,” says an agitated Ajay Chander (name changed on request), a gay victim of rape.

As he narrates his harrowing tale, one can only imagine his state of mind. With tears in his eyes he observes, “Ever since the Delhi gang rape case unfolded, it seems as if rape cases have increased in a manifold way in India. But I want to bring to light the dilemma of many gay people who are subjected to similar brutality. I am a rape survivor.”

As Chander pronounces these three words out loud, he fervently hopes that this would help him to “move on and bury the ghosts of my past that came back to life after the recent discussions about rape”. He wants to be able to tackle those difficult memories, “For several years now, I have debated in my head about how to speak about this without falling into the many traps that have been laid out for people like me. How do I relate what happened to me without my tale becoming just another victim’s narrative? How do I talk about it without making rape pornography out of it? How do I talk about it as a man without making it sound like I am elbowing myself into a space occupied by women survivors?”

Twelve years ago, Chander was gang-raped and the men who did this to him went as far as videotaping their brutality in order to force him into silence. He says, “I was 18 years old at that time. I had hooked up with someone online and went to meet him at an agreed spot. From there, things just spiraled out of control in a bizarre manner. I do not want to go into the details.”

Visibly disturbed by the effort to even recall the incident, the young man stops to take a breath before he continues, “Every time a friend mentions gay porn, I shudder in panic wondering whether the video of my rape is circulating online.”

Although many years have passed and Chander is now a vocal gay rights activist running his own non-governmental organisation in Nagpur, Maharashtra, he doesn’t feel safe in the company of unknown men. He has also toned down the feminine appeal of his appearance so that he doesn’t attract undue attention. Elaborating on the demons he is battling, he says, “I have censored my body for survival. I fear for the safety of my queer friends. When the memories of my rape come back to me, I am scared of sleeping alone even in my own home. I try and go to a friend’s place or simply lie awake all night. Despite feeling stressed I try to be cheerful for the sake of my mother. I don’t want to trouble her by looking gaunt or haunted.”

Chander has always desisted from sharing his traumas with anyone as he feels that if “I speak about this, people will forget the rape and blame me for hooking up with a stranger for sex, especially another man”. He doesn’t want to deal with this blame as well as be confronted with the memories of the violence.

Although he tries to live as ‘normally’ as possible, and is in a committed relationship right now, there are moments when Chander is unable to respond to his partner. “For instance, whenever a little extra physical force is used during physical intimacy, I shut down and shrink into my shell. It may be an act of passion, but my body reads it differently. I cannot go through with it,” he says.

According to Chander, even when it happens to a man, rape is gendered violence. He recalls, “It happened to me because I was feminine. The men thought that I deserved it for not acting like a ‘man’. Sometimes rape is inflicted on men just to shame them; to, supposedly, insult them for their lack of masculinity. In whatever way it happens, it loops back to the question of gender.”

This is one of the reasons why he has become a staunch feminist. “I was one even before I was raped by men. I didn’t need this violent lesson to turn feminist. But if I was to live with it, I decided to make this experience of violence, which I now feel in my bones, an embodied site of my feminism. I have tried to make use of it to understand gendered violence, to understand the human body and sexual performance, to understand myself and this world just a little bit more,” he explains.

Chander didn’t expect the violence but the scars it left behind are a part of his existence. And there is nothing redemptive in his attempts to use the experience for something else. “It is simply my courage and will to move on. One day, I will manage to bury the demons,” he believes.

Across India, there are gay and queer people like young Chander, who are waging lonely battles to keep their sanity and come to terms with the violence they have faced. Unfortunately, when it comes to institutional or legal support, they have little or no recourse. Rape laws are not applicable to male victims, even when they are homosexual. And although the Delhi High Court has decriminalised homosexuality by reading down the anti-sodomy law – Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code – the tag of homosexuality being an unnatural offence has not been removed from the statute books. Only when the Supreme Court takes a stand on this issue will the authorities get a clearer picture of the law.

Manvendra Singh, gay rights activist and the first Indian gay person from former royalty to come out of the closet, puts it this way, “It’s really tragic that the voices of gay rape victims remain unheard. But then, I can’t really blame them because most of the time, they have not come out into the open about their sexual orientation, so they fear social ostracism. And, in a few cases, when they do gather courage to reach out to the cops to register an FIR, they are mostly mocked at and their complaints remain unregistered. We are fighting against this injustice meted out to them. But change will come only once we have a clear law that legalises homosexuality. Of course, the process of changing mindsets will take an even longer while.”

Until that happens, only the firm voices of men like Chander and Singh, who incidentally is Chander’s close associate and supporter, can keep up this fight for justice.

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