NEW DELHI, India — A southern Indian court on Monday issued a notice to local police after the father of a 22-year-old woman alleged she had been abducted by lesbians, in a case that draws attention once again to India's struggle for gay rights.
The young woman failed to return to the family home in Shoranur, Kerala state, earlier this month. In his petition to the Kerala High Court, her father, Mohanan PS, claims that she was abducted by a lesbian acquaintance with the aid of members of a Bangalore-based gay rights group called Sangama — a “dreaded organization,” in the father's words, according to the Times of India.
"The attempt of the lesbian and others to force the detainee to be part of an organization of despicable gays, lesbians, transgender people and eunuchs under coercion, threat and duress could not be allowed in a democratic country like India," the paper quotes Mohanan as saying in his petition.
The charges highlight the struggle India's emerging gay and lesbian couples face, activists say, even after a law making gay sex a crime was struck down in 2009.
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As in the case of heterosexual “love marriages” that parents oppose because they object to the groom's caste or religion, parents frequently file false kidnapping and abduction charges even though their daughters have left home voluntarily in a bid to pressure — or even force them — to come home.
“[Filing abduction charges] is a quite common practice, because basically it puts one person as a victim,” said Maya Shanker, an activist affiliated with Sangini, another non-profit that works on behalf of Indian lesbians.
“If a family wants to keep their own nest clean, they can claim their daughter as a victim [and avoid acknowledging she was involved in a lesbian relationship].”
Though the vast majority of such cases involve intercaste or interreligious love marriages, police statistics show a spike in charges of kidnapping and abducting young women as the result of such efforts to maintain parental control. Over the past decade, the number of such cases soared from 14,506 in 2002 to 38,262 in 2012, according to India's National Crime Records Bureau.
But all too many of them are dismissed because there is no evidence any crime was committed — unless you count falling in love, says Pinky Anand, a lawyer who practices in the Delhi Supreme Court.
“Generally speaking, women [more often wind up] saying that they are not being abducted, because they are really love marriages,” Anand told GlobalPost.
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To get their daughters back, parents file kidnapping and abduction charges or simply a writ of habeas corpus — which compels the accused party to produce the alleged victim before the court, Anand said. There's really no question of illegality — whether it is a heterosexual or homosexual relationship — unless the alleged victim is a minor or testifies that she was abducted against her will.
“A major [i.e. an adult] can go away with anybody, even though same-sex marriage is not recognized in India,” Anand said. “There's no longer any criminality in living together.”
Nonetheless, that doesn't always mean such cases go away, said Sangini's Shanker. Despite Supreme Court rulings in favor of love marriages, local courts and police frequently support parents in blocking these unions or in negotiating to get their daughters back. And in the case of lesbian couples, the pressure can be even more extreme.
“All the laws and everything are in place, and it is in favor of the woman. But the courts are run by people. The judges are people, and they have their own opinions, so a lot of times there is pressure on the woman [to go back to her family],” Shanker said.
Apart from cultural or religious taboos against same-sex relationships, many Indian women don't have the jobs or skills they need to support themselves, leaving them vulnerable to such pressure.
And the results can be disastrous.
“If my parents charge somebody else with abducting me, and I say, yes, I've been abducted, then that other person gets jailed, and the case will drag on,” said Shanker.
“Sometimes people have to go into hiding.”