Centre for Internet & Society

Danish Sheikh examines the status of sexual minorities in the light of privacy framework in India. Culling out some real life examples based on various studies, media reports and judgments from the Supreme Court and the High Courts of Delhi and Allahabad, the research brings to light the privacy violations being committed by both individuals as well as state authorities. The research concludes by saying that privacy doesn’t necessarily encompass a one-size-fits-all approach, and can raise as many questions as it answers.

Defining Privacy

In examining the status of sexual minorities vis-à-vis the privacy framework in India, this research takes into account a definition of privacy that encompasses protection against physical interference with a person and their property as well as the state of being free from intrusion in one’s private life or affairs.[1] This involves an understanding of privacy violations being committed by both an individual as well as the State. On the one hand is the extent to which a private individual is entitled to personal information about another individual and on the other is the extent to which government authorities can intrude into the private life of a citizen to keep watch over his or her movements or exercise control over personal choices.[2]

No mention of sexuality and privacy in India can stand without a nod to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). In 1860, with the institution of the IPC by Lord Macaulay, section 377 criminalized homosexuality by putting forth that, "carnal intercourse against the order of nature"[3] was to be punishable by law. While this archaic law stands even today, it was read down significantly in a landmark Delhi High Court judgment in 2009[4] which will be referred to later. As stated in an open letter by Vikram Seth and a host of others and endorsed by Amartya Sen, the law has been used to "systematically arrest, prosecute, terrorize and blackmail sexual minorities. It has spawned public intolerance and abuse, forcing tens of millions of gay and bisexual men and women to live in fear and secrecy at tragic cost to themselves and their families."[5] When understood in its conception as non-interference by the State, as the right to be left alone,[6] privacy isn’t necessarily an empowering right for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. For one, the claim to privacy when it comes to same-sex acts tends to get construed as a claim for secrecy: it is to carry out purportedly "clandestine" acts that the sexual minority community wants refuge from the State. The same strategy can further backfire when claims for heightened scrutiny might in fact be requested, such as in discrimination actions.[7] A zonal understanding of privacy also subverts the fact that many instances of expression of identity happen in the public sphere.[8]

For a while, privacy jurisprudence hinged on this idea of privacy as a negative right by disallowing infringement of a person’s right to a private life by the State. This understanding may be located in an international regime which has for a while insisted on dividing civil and political rights at one side, and social and economic rights on the other. With this split, what was institutionalized was the idea that civil and political rights were as such "negative" rights, while social and economic rights were "positive" in their content. In effect, the presumption that stood was that while states needed to expand resources to uphold social and economic rights, no such correlative obligation required observance in respect of civil and political rights.[9] Recent human rights conventions such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities acknowledge the flaw in this understanding, based on the reasoning that both civil and political rights and social and economic rights give rise to positive and negative duties.[10] The Naz Foundation[11] judgment propels the understanding of privacy as a positive right. It’s easy enough to split the analysis in this study neatly with the judgment which, in the course of declaring unconstitutional the aforementioned IPC provision, discussed at length the right to privacy, exploring it as a function of dignity. To divide what the Delhi High Court said about the right into three parts — first, they discussed privacy as dealing with persons and not places,[12] implying that the right to privacy is not only a claim to space from state intervention but that it protects the autonomy of the private will and a person’s freedom of choice and action, second, they tied it in with dignity and connected it with the value and worth of all individuals,[13] and third, they talked of the right to privacy as being based on one’s autonomous identity. In the context of privacy, this means that it is "the inner sanctum of the person such as his/her family life, sexual preference and home environment which is shielded from erosion by conflicting rights of the community."

While there will be a bit of a before-Naz/after-Naz tint to the analysis, it is important to appreciate that the nature of privacy discourse when it comes to sexual minorities remains somewhat murky even after the grand affirmation that the judgment provided. A large part of this of course is concerned with society struggling to catch up with the developments in the law.

Before moving on to the next chapter, I’ll unpack the term "sexual minority" to delineate the different communities that will feature in the course of this paper, whilst also attempting to renegotiate the idea of privacy contextually. Using Arvind Narrain’s seminal monograph Queer as a template,[14] the term gay will be employed to describe a man who is attracted to another man emotionally, sexually or physically; a lesbian woman is attracted to women emotionally, sexually or romantically; while someone who is bisexual maintains that attraction towards members of both sexes. A transgender person assumes the gender identity of the opposite sex; within Indian discourse they are called as hijras, constituted of a transgender person who is biologically male and takes on the gender role of a female. The hijra community in India maintains a unique form of social organization within its parallel society. We then have the term "eunuch", used in a more derogatory fashion, which medically refers to a castrated male, and is sometimes employed in India to refer to the hijras. Another South Asian constructed identity is that of the kothi — a male homosexual who is feminized and takes a passive/receptive role in sex.

The next section of this study will look at a string of privacy concerns of sexual minorities in India as sourced from various studies and media reports. The analysis pauses at the interplay of rights surrounding the transgender community in particular: how do issues of recognition of their particular category impact members of the community?  The subsequent section jumps past the timeline of the Naz Foundation judgment to understand the kind of changes – if at all – that the high court’s words have effected when it comes to this idea of privacy.

Privacy Rights and Wrongs

The incidents highlighted in this chapter took place before the Delhi High Court altered the way we conceived of queer rights in general and privacy in particular. Two issues permeate this analysis: one, the notion of criminality hovering above queer identity, and two, the somewhat one-dimensional idea of privacy that existed then. A third, more complex issue in the context of the hijra community becomes the idea that one conception of privacy may not always be the most empowering for a community, and the subsequent negotiations that have to be made in that sphere.

Entrapment: The Lucknow Incidents

In July of 2001, a set of raids: first on a public park frequented by the men who have sex with men (MSM)[15] community, and next on the offices of two NGOs working on safe sex issues led to the arrests of ten people. The operation was conducted on the basis of an FIR filed with a Lucknow police station wherein it was alleged that a certain Suresh had sodomized the complainant. Notable in the incident was the climate of homophobia stoked by the media which indulged in sensationalizing headlines,[16] with the magistrate concerned further refusing bail to the men. In denial of bail, instead of siding with the relevant law, the magistrate clearly proceeded on the basis of his perceptions regarding homosexuality: "they…are polluting the entire society by encouraging the young persons and abetting them for committing the offence of sodomy."[17]

If we were to extend the Supreme Court’s reasoning in the catena of surveillance cases vis-a-vis privacy starting from Kharak Singh v. State of U.P.[18] it is clear that the NGO members’ right to privacy was violated by the way of unwarranted search and seizure operations carried out by the police. As the court said in Govind v. State of M.P.,[19] domiciliary visits and picketing by the police should be reduced to the clearest cases of danger to community security. While the judges were referring to matters relating to follow-up from a conviction/release from prison, it seems evident that a higher standard should be given to cases where such prior conviction itself hasn’t taken place.

As for the accused, Narrain notes how the response of the State and media ended up harming them, regardless of the final judicial decision. [20] The public hearings meant that in Lucknow, their sexual identities became public, with a definite impact on their future prospects and present perceptions. The question, as Narrain poses, is the issue of the suitability of the courts to protect the rights of people who are still in the closet. If approaching the courts means compulsory 'outing' with all its attendant negative outcomes, how does one articulate the rights of such a minority?[21]

There are thus three major facets of privacy violation here: the police’s lawlessness resulting in the primary intrusion; the media’s sensationalization which harshly exposed the accused to the public glare; and finally, the magistrate’s bias which legitimized these privacy violations.

Yet another set of arrests took place in the city, this time in 2006, with the police in Lucknow arresting four men under section 377 for allegedly having sex in a public park. News reports revealed pictures of all the four men with their names and home addresses.[22]

The first information report (FIR) here contradicted the investigation of a fact finding team of activists and lawyers: it emerged that none of the men were actually involved having public sex, with the story by the police being a completely fabricated one. It turned out that one of the men had been arrested by the police on their knowledge about his homosexuality, following which his contacts were tapped to stage an entrapment of the other three men.[23]

This notion of raiding homosexual gatherings was taken to its extreme by a police raid on a gay party in the outskirts of Mumbai in 2008, in the course of which six persons were detained. "…. neither was he able to give a satisfactory explanation for organizing the party," said the API on questioning the event organizer.[24]

In these instances of interplay between criminal procedure, media ethics and judicial process, it is worth questioning whether general reforms in those areas will positively affect privacy rights of sexual minorities in particular. Unwarranted searches and arrests are barely an uncommon occurrence in the country, neither is the fact of accounts of people’s sexual behaviour finding themselves very publicly outed in the media, and nor, again, are accounts of judges overlooking police excesses rare. It’s a bit difficult to make an exact value judgment over what kinds of privacy violations is more damning, in a society that takes its sexual mores quite seriously, be they with regard to hetero or homosexual sex. More than anything though, that just makes the need for across the board reforms in these areas more urgent, and sharpens the kind of alliances across communities that would be required to effect change. Of course, this kind of advocacy can only happen in an atmosphere where homosexuality continues to be decriminalized – the fate of the Naz Foundation appeal before the Supreme Court is of paramount importance.

Gender Identity and Transgender Issues

A survey of the situation regarding the transgender community in India throws up a fascinating picture of instances where seemingly positive sounding regulation doesn't always serve its intended effects – when such "positive sounding" regulation does happen at all. To start with, there is the question of the status of the transgender community in India itself – a PUCL report[25] notably documented, and numerous reports and articles[26] have affirmed, the reality of the transgender community today as one of harassment, abuse, and sexual violence. These accounts reveal a deep-rooted fear inculcated by mainstream society of sexual and gender non-conformity, which manifests itself in the refusal of basic citizenship rights to these communities.

The PUCL report gives a detailed account of harassment by the police in public places, at home, in police stations, and instances of entrapment similar to the Lucknow cases. Instead of reiterating that aspect which would simply involve repeating the above analysis, this section will look into other gender-specific issues that arise with respect to the community and the multiple questions these give rise to:

Transgender Toilets

The first example relates to efforts by the Chennai Municipal Corporation to build toilets specifically for the transgender population,[27] in a move stated as being part of a pilot project to recognize the considerable community in South and Central Chennai. Each lavatory in these toilets was to contain male, as well as female urinals. In the words of the municipal commissioner, the scheme was aimed at "extending recognition to the community and mainstreaming them", and more facilities could be built if the public responded well to the idea.

The reaction from the community was mixed at best: sure, it was regarded as a positive move to the extent that not every person who identified themselves as transgender had undergone sex change; simultaneously, the city saw one section of the community fearing the move as a step towards discrimination and isolation. "I don’t agree with this. We want to mingle with the mainstream. We don’t want to be separated like this," said Aasha Bharati, president of the Aravanigal Association. The idea of privacy here is at odds with something else the community is striving for: inclusion. The fear then was of one kind of recognition trumping another. What would a policy maker then privilege? Would this possibly be a better short-term move, as we move towards a future understanding of not being disabled by difference, or would the ideal of privacy trump even that?

The way this issue has played out in the Indian context stands in interesting contrast to cases in America. A bill in Maine which would allow restroom owners in business establishments and institutions from mandating what gender persons would use what washroom was met with sharp opposition from the transgender community on claims of dignity and privacy.[28] For a person who, say, externally had strongly masculine features, but identified as a woman, two options existed: either break the law and walk discreetly into the male compartment – or risk the outrage of other women as she walked into their compartment and was faced with their indignation of having a "man" use their toilet. In such an instance, there stand two rival conceptions of privacy: one in which respecting privacy would, somewhat ironically, stand as a transgender person’s right to assert their distinct identity in public without fear, versus a conception of privacy as anonymity – their right not to be compelled to make a political statement in the course of going about their daily lives.

Now that kind of issue wouldn’t come up in the Indian context for a large section of the transgender community simply owing to the hyper-visibility of the hijras. For all its contemporary stigmatization, the hijra community is a discernible one in public with an acknowledged history. Hijras have won elections in India, and are very much an acknowledged part of public space.[29] To that extent, privacy isn’t quite the overriding concern here in the way that it might be in the West – one might even say that the lack of such a conception can in this particular case be somewhat empowering.

Passport Forms

The next example concerns gender-sensitivity when it comes to passport forms.[30] The Ministry of External Affairs moved to allow for the option of entering a person's sex as "E" instead of either "M" or "F", the "E" then standing for "Eunuch". At the time of introduction of this category there was a degree of ambivalence: it was not available on the form itself, instead being listed as an option only in the rules. As activists noted however, it was a victory in the sense of being the first official recognition of the community. The particular category of recognition was problematic: for one the term "eunuch" would only reasonably represent one part of the transgender population; for another, large sections of the community would consider that term insulting. The government subsequently made an ameliorative measure by changing the category to "Other".[31] Again, the logical privacy question that would arise here would be regarding one's desire to be identified as transgendered in the first place. Similar to the toilets example, the issue would play out differently in India in many cases, given the hyper-visibility of the hijra community which provides an instant marker for a hijra, and subsequently ensures that there isn’t really a privacy violation when it comes to such kind of identification.

Of course, this declaration of otherness leads to issues for someone uncomfortable with disclosing transgender identity as such, and wanting to perform maleness or femaleness specifically. Would marking either the "M" or "F" column be considered an illegality?

Recognition – and Resolving Privacy

Where official recognition is clearly ameliorative, it doesn't always stay. Following years of struggle, the community was given recognition in Andhra Pradesh under the Minorities Welfare Department. It was short-lived, however: protests by religious minority groups forced the government to go back on its decision.[32] The kind of privacy violations that the hijra community suffers in India are thus in stark contrast to the kinds suffered by members of the gay and lesbian community: where one side deals with its invisibility, the other contends with the problems of its hyper-visibility. Hijras walk about as constant targets of police intrusion.  A gay man or lesbian woman wouldn’t necessarily face those issues at the same level, except in instances where public sex is involved. The exceptions to even that are incidents of entrapment such as the Lucknow case, but it is evident that it is the hijra community which deals with such police action much more than the others. What is also uniquely empowering for the community is this very aspect of their identity, this ever-present identification. The kind of fears of disclosure and blackmail that someone who fears outing might face fizzle out in the case of the hijras.

The discourse gets complicated when you take up the identities of non-hijra transgendered persons: there are the female-to-male transgendered identities of Thirunambigal in Tamil Nadu, Magaraidu in Andhra Pradesh and Gandabasaka in Karnataka – as well as male to female identities such as the Jogappas in Northern Karnataka, and Jogathas in Andhra Pradesh.[33] The idea of hyper-visibility which is so crucial to locating a sense of empowerment for the hijra community in their lack of loss of privacy disappears here. The discussion here then springs back to the U.S. example of transgender toilets, and the complications that arise when external identity doesn’t necessarily match the internal one.

The Medical Establishment[34]

Relevant to this section of the study is the understanding of privacy under the ambit of autonomy. Referring to Naz Foundation, instead of using liberty to describe and support privacy as under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the court refers to autonomy holding that "exercise of autonomy enables an individual to attain fulfillment, grow in self-esteem and form relationships of his or her choice and fulfill all legitimate goals that he/she may set."[35];

The medical establishment in India constantly undermines that autonomy by its treatment of homosexuality as a disease, and of LGBT persons as "others". LGBTs in India have often been detained in clinics against their will and subjected to treatment including shock therapy aimed at curing them.[36]

In 2001, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) admitted a complaint from a patient at the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences, alleging psychiatric abuse at the hands of the consulting doctor, having been put on a four year course of drugs and told he had to be "cured" of his homosexuality. The NHRC finally chose to reject the complaint, with informal conversations with the chairman showing his belief that till section 377 was read down, nothing could be done. [37]

According to Vinay Chandran, Executive Director of the Swabhava Trust, medicine in India continues to be obsessed with curing homosexuality, with health professionals in many places still offering behavioural therapy including electric shock treatment as well as psychiatric drugs and hormones in order to "cure" patients of homosexual desire. Vinay reports that a couple of psychiatrists in Bangalore mentioned that there were possibilities of discovering which gene determines sexual preference and scientifically suppressing it.[38]

Of course quacks exist across the spectrum, and medicinal malpractice is barely limited to serving disastrous advice/ treatment to persons "afflicted" with homosexuality. For understanding how the debate moves beyond merely unqualified doctors, we have to factor in the category of ego-dystonic homosexuality, which is endorsed by the WHO. Here, the gender identity or sexual preference of the individual is not in doubt, but the individual wishes it were different and seeks treatment.[39]

The way a number of psychiatrists’ engage with the situation is summed up by the statement: "it’s not my job to tell him that it’s okay to be gay." No, the psychiatrist’s job it seems is to attempt to "cure" the oft-acknowledged incurable.

The fundamental factor not taken into account is that it is very often the environment that surrounds expression of homosexual identity that the patient is concerned about, as opposed to merely the idea of being LGBT. The relationship between patient and doctor is a fiduciary one, premised on absolute trust. In consulting a doctor, the patient entrusts fundamental decision making powers to the practitioner. The medical professional is often unable to comprehend the question of choice. This in turn results in effectively infringing the patient’s autonomy: the component of attaining fulfillment, the growth in self-esteem that the Delhi High Court elaborated on is robbed in the process of stifling sexuality, even when it is something the patient specifically requests the doctor for.

Lesbian  Unions

Maya Sharma, in her book Loving Women locates the stories of a number of working-class lesbian women struggling to be with each other against the odds.[40] In a vein that parallels the reaction elicited to inter-religious or inter-caste marriages in a number of regions, it is often the honour of a family/village that is invoked in opposition to the demands of two people who want to be each other. One incident involves a woman who "dares" to elope with another being beaten and stripped, having her face blackened and being paraded around a village with a garland of shoes on her neck. Sahayatrika, a lesbian women's collective in Kerala has documented 24 cases of lesbian couple suicides in Kerala during the period between 1996 and 2004.[41] Earlier this year, two sets of lesbian couples committed suicide within a month of each – one in Sonarpur,.[42] and the other in Nandigram.[43]

Sexuality has often been used as a means for controlling women. The immoral/ tainted woman when placed in contrast with the idealized image of the model Indian woman is an image played out in various daily social interactions. In carrying out the agenda of control, the act of agency displayed by women who choose to step out of the heterosexual woodwork is a direct threat to that very system. The acts of family members in attempting to separate lesbian unions display a lack of respect for autonomy and for the private decisions of the women concerned. The feelings of fear, shame and isolation experienced by women who dare to explore their sexuality are compounded by instances of persecution by the family. The state is further complicit in numerous documented instances with the police often working with the family to track down the runaway brides and get them back home to familial watch under lock and key.

Privacy again battles with privacy in this realm: an oft-heard feminist critique of privacy hinges on the idea that privacy can be dangerous for women when it is used to cover up repression and physical harm to them by creation of the public/private divide.[44] The private realm is premised on non-intervention by the State. In this instance however, it is another aspect of privacy that needs to be valued, and one that even calls for state intervention: the aforementioned act of autonomy.

Privacy in the Time of Naz

The examples up until now have been coloured with a pre-Naz conception of privacy and queer rights – this chapter takes up two incidents post the judgment that captured the public imagination. First is the sting operation carried out on an Allahabad Muslim University professor that began a chain of events leading to his death; the second is an "expose" on the gay community carried by TV9. In both incidents, the "Spectre of Naz" [45] looms in the background, in many ways acting as an empowering, legitimizing force.

The Allahabad Muslim University Sting Operation

In February 2010, newspapers widely reported the story of Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras a 64 year-old Reader & Chairman, Department of Modern Indian Languages, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) being filmed having consensual sex with another adult male. When the video was made public, AMU suspended Siras for immoral sexual activity.[46] The implications of the suspension both in terms of the perception of homosexuality as immoral despite the judgment of the Delhi High Court as well as the disturbing nature of the occurrence of the filming of Dr. Siras in the privacy of his home prompted a nationwide outrage.[47]

On April 1 of the same year, the Allahabad High Court ordered AMU to reinstate Siras, holding that his right to privacy had been violated, stating "the right of privacy is a fundamental right, needs to be protected and that unless the conduct of a person, even if he is a teacher is going to affect and has substantial nexus with his employment, it may not be treated as misconduct."[48]

Then comes the news that Uttar Pradesh police had arrested two of those who broke into Siras’ house and filmed him. Many university officials were also charged with criminal offences. As Vinay Sitapati notes, none of this could have happened in a context where gay sex was illegal. In that context, it would have been Siras who was the criminal, and the additional wrongs done simply irrelevant – "this is not how the story was supposed to pan out. Those who broke into Siras’s house and AMU (and there are allegations that they are one and the same) assumed that Siras’s transgressions were so repellent, that their own would be forgiven." The judicial narrative — of a victimized Siras, a callous administration and criminal house-breakers — owes much to the Delhi High Court’s view that Siras’s sexual choice was legitimate.[49]

Going back to the understanding that the right to privacy is integrally linked to the notion of autonomy and the right to live with dignity ‒ it is this most fundamental of Constitutional safeguards that the AMU authorities clearly colluded in negating by being complicit in the sting operation and subsequently suspending Dr. Siras. A press release by the AMU authorities demonstrated a continuing disrespect for privacy: "the university respects the privacy of a teacher living in its premises but it also expects everyone to behave in a respectful manner giving due regard to its valued cultural ethos and the campus sensitivity including their neighbours concerns and to the great moral credentials that AMU has been nurturing since its inception."[50]

The TV9 “Expose”

In February of 2011, the news channel TV9 aired what it called an expose on the Hyderabad gay community titled "Gay Culture in Hyderabad". The video starts by worrying about how gay culture in Hyderabad is "increasing drastically". Following this, footage of a gay club is shown, without any attempt to blank out faces. The show then puts itself in the mode of investigative journalism, as TV9 sets itself the target of exposing the "truth" about gay culture in the city.

Next, viewers are informed about gay dating websites, with the anchor taking special care to inform viewers that it is software employees and students who mostly "fall prey" to this gay culture. Then, in an astonishingly blunt violation of privacy, pictures of men on one dating site are flashed on the screen, accompanied by conversations between the concerned man and a TV9 journalist soliciting sex. "While some do it for new pleasures, some get spoilt by friends, others do it for the crave of money and the remaining are vowed by the lust some of them have changed it into a business by capturing teenager's mind and get them into hell."

The video recording of the telecast on YouTube was taken off the site following a sustained protest from users of the site. Notices for legal action were sent to TV9 offices, including a detailed petition from Adhikaar, a Delhi based NGO. Two questions were primarily asked on LGBT mailing lists across the country[51]: first, regarding how safe establishing one’s homosexual identity online, or attending gay parties would be anymore, and secondly, whether a protest should take place, and what the nature of the same should be.

As highlighted by the petition drafted by Adhikaar, a Delhi-based NGO, this act of TV9 was violative of Code 6 of the News Broadcasters Association Code which deals with matters of privacy, and states:[52]

"As a rule channels must not intrude on private lives, or personal affairs of individuals, unless there is a clearly established larger and identifiable public interest for such a broadcast. The underlying principle that news channels abide by is that the intrusion of the private spaces, records, transcripts, telephone conversations and any other material will not be for salacious interest, but only when warranted in the public interest."

By way of entrapping a set of gay men through calling them and asking them pointed personal questions about their sexual lives, TV9 was further in violation of Code 9 (Self-Regulation Section) of the News Broadcasters Association which deals with sting operations and which states:[53]

"As a guiding principle, sting and undercover operations should be a last resort of news channels in an attempt to give the viewer comprehensive coverage of any news story. News channels will not allow sex and sleaze as a means to carry out sting operations, the use of narcotics and psychotropic substances or any act of violence, intimidation, or discrimination as a justifiable means in the recording of any sting operation."

A month later, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, New Delhi censured TV9 and ordered it to pay a fine of Rs.1,00,000 and broadcast an apology in prime time both in English and in Telugu. The Authority determined that TV9 has violated the codes of ethics and broadcasting standards.[54]

Justice JS Verma called the story a sensationalized depiction of gay culture in Hyderabad and the story needlessly violated the privacy of individuals, with possible alternate sexual orientation. He also pointed out that alternate sexual orientation is no longer considered as a taboo or a criminal act. The channel was directed to run an apology for three consecutive days beginning the Monday next, in prime time with the following text:

"TV9 apologizes for the story “Gay Culture Rampant in Hyderabad” telecast on this channel on 22 February, 2011 from3.11 p.m. to 3.17 p.m. particularly since the story invaded the privacy of certain persons and was in violation of the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards of the News Broadcasters Association. Any hurt or harm caused to any person thereby is sincerely regretted."

Again, it must be noted that the order of the NBSA would not have been possible in a context where gay sex was illegal: it is that very notion that allowed the Authority to move past the issue of homosexuality and instead delve into the merits of the actual harm done here.


It is possible to mount an argument that nothing has really changed post-Naz. The AMU’s attitude even in the face of the flak it received after the sting operation was phlegmatic at best: a summary statement saying that while it respected his privacy, it also expected a certain degree of behavior keeping in line with its "valued cultural ethos". Reactions like this threaten to lock the idea of privacy into a closed epistemic loop of judicial discourse: the courts might go hoarse extolling the significance of privacy, but it is for nought if the AMU decides it can still walk away with its flagrant violation of basic civil liberties. Or perhaps the frenzy generated by the incident will work as a deterrent factor to future institutions fixing their moral gaze upon their members. The strength of an incident as precedent can only be gauged effectively by how its future echoes use it as a reference point.

Meanwhile, what do these stories tell us about privacy?

The issues faced by the transgender community tell us that privacy doesn’t necessarily encompass a one-size-fits-all approach, and can raise as many questions as it answers. The issues faced by the Lucknow NGOs narrate a tale of institutionalized disrespect for privacy that has marginally more devastating consequences for the homosexual community by the spectre of outing. The issues faced by lesbian women evidence yet another need for breaching the public/private divide, demonstrating how the protection of the law might be welcome in the family sphere regardless of the bull-in-a-china-shop[55] prophecies of doom. Alternate sexual orientation and gender identity might bring the community under a common rubric, but distilling the components of that rubric is essential for engaging in any kind of useful understanding of the community and the kind of privacy violations it suffers – or engage with situations when the lack of privacy is empowering.

Selected incidents reported from 2001-2011

1 NGO charged with running gay club 8 July 2001 Times of India http://goo.gl/MNHzw
2 Homosexuality okay if practiced in private 14 September 2011 Sify News http://goo.gl/iF3PQ
3 Male callers harass lesbian helpline 26 October 2003 Mid Day Mumbai http://goo.gl/Xf0fj
4 Lesbian marriages, born of a legal loophole, stir debate in India 4 February 2005 DesPardes http://goo.gl/O30Hf
5 Third sex finds a place on Indian passport forms 10 March 2005 Telegraph http://goo.gl/nBQIt
6 Lesbian couple sparks debate in Uttar Pradesh state 9 April 2005 Sify News http://goo.gl/9GxuF
7 The Indian city of Chennai is set to build toilets for trans people July 2005 Pink News http://goo.gl/52Llq
8 Homosexual gangs 3 January 2006 Pioneer http://goo.gl/NX2NP
9 Nihal was used to homosexual sex since 1986 4 January 2006 Dainik Jagran http://goo.gl/NX2NP
10 Ain’t no cure for love 6 June 2006 India Together http://goo.gl/V9Vjn
11 Police bust gay party 4 February 2008 Times of India http://goo.gl/n2nyz
12 Aligarh Muslim University professor suspended for being gay 18 February 2010 Times of India http://goo.gl/D8LuD
13 Class monitors 8 March 2010 Outlook http://goo.gl/Q2dkV
14 Aligarh gay professor found dead, may have killed self 8 April 2010 Times of India http://goo.gl/FyeIz
15 AMU professor a victim of clash between ‘tradition’ and privacy 25 February 2010 The Hindu http://goo.gl/AtiJW
16 Criminal case registered against six in gay professor case 10 April 2010 India Today http://goo.gl/LfwDI
17 AMU Prof promised money for sex: Rickshaw-puller 19 April 2010 Times of India http://goo.gl/aXmBz
18 Varsity paid for sting on gay professor 19 February 2010 India Today http://goo.gl/cyQxL
19 TV channel outs gay men, women in Hyderabad 24 February 2010 NDTV http://goo.gl/w6NG4
20 News Broadcasting Standards Authority censures TV9 over privacy violations 25 March 2011 Privacy India http://goo.gl/rY7bT
21 In a first, Gurgaon Court recognizes lesbian marriage 29 July 2011 Times of India http://goo.gl/70KPr


[1].Madhavi Goradia Divan, Facets of Media Law, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 2006.

[2].For instance, an HIV positive man’s right to marry as discussed in Mr. X v. Hospital Z, 1998 (8) SCC 296.

[3].Section 377, Indian Penal Code.

[4].(2009) 160 DLT 277.

[5].http://www.openletter377.com/, last accessed 20 October 2007.

[6].Olmstead v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting).

[7].Cathy Harris, Outing Privacy Litigation: Towards a Contextual Strategy for Lesbian and Gay Rights, 65 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 248.


[9].Amita Dhanda, Constructing a New Human Rights Lexicon : Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Year 5 No. 8 Sao Paulo June 2008.

[10].See Henry Shue, Basic Rights Subsistence Affluence and US Foreign Policy, Princeton University Press, 2nd ed. 1996.

[11].Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT, Delhi, 160 (2009) DLT 277.

[12].Ibid., 47.

[13].Ibid., 26, 83, 113.

[14].Arvind Narrain, Queer: Law and Despised Sexualities in India, Books for Change, 2004.

[15].Men who have sex with men.

[16]."Gay Club Supplied Boys to Politicians"; "Gay Culture Started in UP in 1998 Itself", The Times of India.

[17].Criminal Misc. Case No. 2054/2001, as taken from Arvind Narrain, Queer: Law and Despised Sexualities in India.

[18].AIR 1963 SC 1295; it was Justice Subba Rao’s minority decision here that laid the foundation for the right to privacy in India.

[19].1975 (2) SCC 148.

[20]. Arvind Narrain, Queer: Law and Despised Sexualities in India, Books for Change, 2004.


[21].Alok Gupta, Section 377 and the Dignity of Indian Homosexuals, http://www.iglhrc.org/binary-data/ATTACHMENT/file/000/000/15-1.pdf, last accessed on 9 August 2011.


[23].http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Mumbai/Police_bust_gay_party/articleshow/2753740.cms, last accessed on 8 August 2011.

[24].Human Rights Violations in the Transgender Community: A Report by PUCL-K, 2nd ed. 2005.

[25].http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/04/india-gender, last accessed on 9 August 2011.

[26].http://www.pinknews.co.uk/news/articles/2005-11518.html, last accessed on 10 August 2011.

[27].Transgender people deserve privacy, dignity, in public bathrooms, Maine Opinion, available at http://bangordailynews.com/2011/05/17/opinion/transgender-people-deserve-privacy-dignity-in-public-bathrooms/, last accessed on 20 August 2011.

[28].Transgender people deserve privacy, dignity, in public bathrooms, Maine Opinion, available at http://bangordailynews.com/2011/05/17/opinion/transgender-people-deserve-privacy-dignity-in-public-bathrooms/, last accessed on 20 August 2011.

[29].Siddharth Narrain, Being a Eunuch, available at http://www.countercurrents.org/gen-narrain141003.htm, last accessed on 20 August 2011.

[30].http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:gLqrElQbWboJ:infochangeindia.org/human-rights/news/-third-sex-finds-a-place-on-indian-passport-forms.html+PASSPORT+APPLICATION+INDIA+gender&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=in&source=www.google.co.in, last accessed on 9 August 2011.

[31].http://passport.gov.in/cpv/ppapp1.pdf, last accessed on 9 August 2011.

[32].http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/andhra-pradesh-government-gives-in-to-sexuality-bias-71454, last accessed on 8 August 2011.

[33].Gee Ameena Suleiman, Non-Hijra Transgenders Struggle for Identity, Daily News and Analysis, available at http://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/report_non-hijra-transgenders-struggle-for-identity_1588421, last accessed on 25 August 2011.

[34].Arvind Narrain and Vinay Chandran, It’s Not My Job to tell you It’s okay to be Gay – Medicalisation of Homosexuality: A Queer Critique, available at http://www.altlawforum.org/gender-and-sexuality/publications/medicalizationfinal.rtf/at_download/filehttp://www.altlawforum.org/gender-and-sexuality/publications/medicalizationfinal.rtf/at_download/file, last accessed on 20 August 2011.

[35].160 (2009) DLT 277.

[36].http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/4b6fe2110.pdf, last accessed 9 August 2011.

[37].Arvind Narrain. and Tarunabh Khaitan, Medicalisation of Homosexuality : A Human Rights Approach, as taken from Bina Fernandez (ed.), Humjinsi: A Resource Book on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Rights in India (New Delhi : India Centre for Human Rights and the Law, 2002).

[38].Vinay Chandran, Ain’t no cure for love, India Together, last accessed on 8 August 2011.

[39].Supra n. 32.

[40].Maya Sharma, Loving Women: Being Lesbian in Unprivileged India, Yoda Press, 2006.

[41].India: Second NGO Shadow Report on CEDAW, November 2006, available at http://www.iwraw-ap.org/resources/pdf/India%20Shadow%20report.pdf, last accessed on 10 September 2011.

[42].http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-01-24/kolkata/28367047_1_girls-suicide-lesbian-couple, last accessed on 10 September 2011.

[43].http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-02-22/kolkata/28624865_1_lesbian-couple-suicide-field, last accessed on 10 September 2011.

[44].Saptarshi Mandal, Right to Privacy in Naz Foundation: A Counter-Heteronormative Critique, 3 NUJS L. Rev. 2009.

[45].Vinay Sitapati, The Spectre of Naz, as available at http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-spectre-of-naz/609695/0, last accessed on 9 August 2011.

[46].http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-02-18/india/28118769_1_shrinivas-ramchandra-siras-rickshaw-puller-amu-campus, last accessed on 11 August 2011.

[47]. Arvind Narrain, et al, Policing Morality at AMU: An Independent Fact-Finding Report,  available at http://www.fridae.com/newsfeatures/2010/03/10/9724.policing-morality-at-amu-an-independent-fact-finding-report?n=sea&nm=amu, last accessed on 11 August 2011.

[48].Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras & Ors v. The Aligarh Muslim University & Ors, Civil Misc. Writ Petition No.17549 of 2010.

[49].Vinay Sitapati, The Spectre of Naz, as available at http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-spectre-of-naz/609695/0, last accessed on 9 August 2011.

[50]. Supra n. 32

[51].[email protected]. This is possibly the most prolific mailing list for LGBT persons in the country, and is constantly active with atleast 4-5 mails being exchanged per day.

[52].Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards of the News Broadcasters Association.

[53].Code 9, Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards of the News Broadcasters Association.

[54].TV9 Ordered to Air Apology for Sting  available at http://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/report_tv9-ordered-to-air-apology-for-sting_1527622, last accessed on 10 September 2011.

[55].“Introduction of constitutional law in the home … is like introducing a bull in a china shop. It will prove to be a ruthless destroyer of the marriage institution”, Rohatgi, J. in Harvinder Kaur v. Harmander Singh Choudhry, AIR 1984 Del 66.

* The author, Danish Sheikh works with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore, India.

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