Section 377: 7 booked for blackmailing doc, who also faces arrest
7 youths have been booked in Bangalore for trying to blackmail a doctor with whom four of the accused had sex. But they have been booked not just for extortion but also under Section 377 which makes the victim also prosecutable.
Six months after the Supreme Court upheld Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalises consensual sexual relations between same sex individuals, 7 youths have been booked in Bangalore under the law for trying to blackmail a doctor with whom four of the accused had sex.
According to a report in the Bangalore Mirror the Central Crime branch arrested the seven under Section 377 and "also filed a complaint against them for blackmailing and extorting Rs 16 lakh" from the doctor.
The report says that "Tilaknagar police have registered a case under section 377 (unnatural sex) and 384 (extortion) of the IPC against Suhas, 20, a resident of Avalahalli; Diwakar, 19, of Parvathipuram; Madhu, 19, of Hanumanthnagar; Nikesh, 22, of Dwarakanagar; Vishwa, 21, of Hanumanthnagar; Mahesh, 19, of Basavanagudi; and Vikash, 21, of Gavipura-Guttahalli."
According to the story, one of the youths Suhas first had a sexual encounter with the doctor (who is a married man with children) and later his friends convinced Suhas to videotape it to blackmail the doctor.
The report also adds that the youth "later masqueraded as policemen and media reporters to further threaten the doctor into coughing up huge sums of money." The doctor gave in as he feared the videotape would be made public. The report also alleges that three other accused also had sex with the doctor.
While the blackmailers have been caught, the police are also exploring if the doctor should be booked. A Crime Branch source also told the paper, "Technically, the doctor is also an accused in the case since he allegedly 'pursued' the remaining accused and convinced them to engage in consensual homosexual sex." DCP (Crime) Abhishek Goyal told the paper that if the "investigations prove it (the sex) was consensual, the doctor will be booked."
The story brings to light the dangers of the Section 377 law, especially post the SC verdict, which made it criminal to have homosexual sex in India. The SC had noted in its verdict at the time that while there was evidence to show "the section is misused by police authorities and others", it did not see it as reason enough for strike it down. The court had stated, "a minuscule fraction of the country’s population constitute lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders and in last more than 150 years less than 200 persons have been prosecuted (as per the reported orders) for committing offence under Section 377 IPC and this cannot be made sound basis for declaring that section ultra vires the provisions of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution."
Minuscule fraction argument aside, the SC had overlooked the fact that by upholding the verdict, it would continue to expose gay people to the risk of blackmail and possible police action. In this particular case, it is evident that the married doctor was forced to keep his sexuality hidden, for which he ended up getting blackmailed. The doctor clearly has some explaining to do to his family but that is between him and his family. However even unmarried men have been targeted by blackmailers threatening to reveal their sexuality to neighbours and family members.
This case presents an especially double-edged sword. The blackmailers are being rightly prosecuted for extortion. But by adding Section 377 to the charges the police are focusing not just on the illegality of blackmail (which would be true whether the sexual encounters were heterosexual or homosexual) but also on the actual sexual act which should be incidental to the extortion charge. That shows why someone like the doctor would be wary about going to the police in the first place because he could be ensnared in his own complaint. And that is the potential for the misuse of Section 377 which is often underestimated.
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