For Men Arrested Under Anti-Gay Law, Hope After Supreme Court Verdict

In 2016, the highest number of cases registered under Section 377 in UP. More than 1,100 people were arrested and chargesheets were filed in 652 cases.

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Arif Jafar (left) is a 47-year-old gay rights activist. He was arrested in Lucknow in 2001.

Lucknow: 

The Supreme Court verdict decriminalising gay sex has finally given some concrete hope to those arrested under the colonial-era Section 377 in India. In some of these instances, court cases have dragged on for close to three decades. Latest crime figures from UP show the state had the maximum number of arrests under the archaic law in 2016 - a massive 999. But not all of them were gay sex specific arrests, crime figures show.

47-year-old gay rights activist Arif Jafar was arrested by the Lucknow Police in 2001. He was charged under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code for promoting homosexuality and jailed for 47 days. Mr Jafar's case still continues to drag in court. "We will move an application to discard the case based on the Supreme Court judgment. I think things have changed. With new, young people joining the police force - at least they are ready to listen. Previously, the police was not willing to listen at all," said Mr Jafar.

Uttar Pradesh's record of arrests under Section 377 for 2016, the latest year for which government data is available is rather shocking.

 In 2016, UP had the highest number of cases registered under Section 377.  More than 1,100 people were arrested and chargesheets were filed in 652 cases.

But police officials point out that in at least two-thirds of the nearly 1,000 cases, the offences were allegedly by men either against children or against girls. Of most of the remaining cases - about 200 - it's not clear how many were registered under the now-redundant gay sex law.

The reluctance of those persecuted to speak out even now is also stems from the fear of social stigma. In 2006, four gay men were arrested by the Lucknow Police in what they said was a raid on a picnic spot where these men were allegedly found to be indulging in unnatural sex. The news made headlines back then. A decade and more later, the men have dropped out of public view. "Those four people don't even want to fight all this. They don't want to risk their social life. This is a reality," said Mr Jafar.

But for many others, like a 60-year-old man who has faced police harassment in Lucknow, the fear will ultimately give way to more freedom. It will take time though, he said, requesting his identity to not be disclosed.

"Well, for people who have, for a better part of their lives, lived under this constant fear, it's mind blowing to think that tomorrow I can get up and say I don't have to worry about this. Society will take its own time but at least a legal step has been taken," he said.

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