Gay travel in India: bad idea?
December 13, 2013 4:05 AM   Subscribe

So the Indian Supreme Court has made gay sex illegal in India again, punishable by up to life imprisonment. Western governments are duly amending their travel warnings. But is there any realistic threat to gay foreigners?

Apparently there have been no convictions of gay people for 20 years, but the law is mainly used to harrass people. My guess is this isn't really an issue, but a local said that the climate there now means that gay foreigners will become a special target for police (presumably looking for bribes). Does that sound true? If so, what are the risks?
posted by dontjumplarry to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you give a corrupt police officer a target, anywhere in the world, they will abuse the target. The Indian Supreme Court has just given them a target.

However, the issue is, how does anyone know two men traveling together in India are gay? Westerners traveling in India are definitely a protected group from police harassment. The government of India wants to encourage tourists. So, unless it is obvious and open, an Indian police officer will assume the traveling couple is not gay.

The risk is created, and is real, when the behavior becomes outwardly open and obvious.
posted by Flood at 4:18 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would say it's unlikely that gay foreigners become a police target. Like Flood said, the government wants to encourage tourism so they'd need a reason to go after you. Besides, it's not abnormal for men to hold hands while they walk around in India. PDA is absolutely out, but otherwise you should be fine.

Also, in my experience people here tend to keep their sexuality non-obvious in public spaces regardless of what the law says. I don't know how much this verdict actually changes the climate in terms of India's social acceptance of LGBT people.
posted by 9000condiments at 4:44 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding Flood and 9000condiments.

If they don't know you're gay, they don't have a reason to go after you. And in India, you'd likely get told off by a policeman even if you were heterosexual and kissing someone in public.

That said, there are protests, pride parades and lots of other blatantly open displays of homosexual presence - in a heated media environment like this, the last thing a policeman would want to do is try to harass a foreigner over Article 377 (in the cities at least) and get his face plastered on newspapers.

So yeah, I'm going to say there's no realistic threat to gay foreigners, if anything you're going to be pretty well protected and treated as a guest.

@9000condiments: Something interesting I find between now and 2009 is that the media and leading commentators and politicians are either neutral or overwhelmingly in support of LGBT groups. The 2009 verdict allowed a lot of people to be more open with their opinions, whereas back then the LGBT groups appeared to be on the defensive.
posted by Senza Volto at 5:20 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Senza Volto, I agree. I won't derail this thread into a discussion about how things have changed but this statement following the verdict sums it up quite perfectly. I encourage anyone who is following this news to watch it.
posted by 9000condiments at 6:23 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

[Guys, just a reminder that we need to keep this pretty targeted to the OP's question. Wider discussion can happen on the blue. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:59 AM on December 13, 2013

Police? In India? Not to worry, you'll hardly ever see one. Apathetic rent-a-cops manning metal detectors, yes; but officers in a squad car? Three weeks in-country, never saw any.
posted by Rash at 8:02 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nope. You'll be just fine. Also, the court just refused to over rule the legislature and did nothing more. This will also change pretty soon.
posted by asra at 11:20 AM on December 13, 2013

Don't get involved with gay prostitution. I would also probably err on the side of staying away from anything underworld-ish or illegal, like buying drugs from touts. That said, I'd err on the side of not doing that stuff, ever, while traveling in a foreign country, regardless of sexual orientation.

Just being a gay person in India? You'll be fine. Even if you are traveling with a partner on a romantic trip, seriously, I think you'll be fine.

As a traveler in India you will likely have absolutely no contact with the police at all.

You will want to avoid PDA, but that would go for everyone. PDA by anyone is absolutely frowned upon in Indian culture.
posted by Sara C. at 12:08 PM on December 13, 2013

Thanks all, that's what I was thinking.

(Although FWIW, I've now seen feedback from 2 different locals in India saying that gay foreigners should definitely be extra cautious in the current climate.)
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:47 PM on December 13, 2013

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