A lesbian couple living together in Bengaluru has sent the city police into a tizzy. 21-year-old Anjali* and 25-year-old Asha* reportedly started living together in May, but Anjali’s parents are not okay with their relationship, and have approached the Vijayanagar police to file a complaint against them for ‘same sex relationship’.
The police, however, are in a fix: Nothing in the law allows them to file a complaint against two adults for wanting to stay together. But the parents insist that the two women be booked nevertheless, and the police themselves don’t understand how two women would want to be in a relationship with each other.
And in their confusion over what to do, the police are now offering counselling – not to the parents, but to the young couple.
What’s worse, the police are mulling over ‘psychiatric counselling’ for them.
The Missing Person Complaint
First reported by Chaitanya Swamy HM in Bangalore Mirror, in a report titled ‘All hell breaks loose as two women wed in Koramangala’, ‘all hell broke loose’ when Anjali’s parents filed a missing person complaint with the Vijayanagar police on 18 May.
In their complaint, the parents said that their daughter hadn’t returned home in two days. According to officer Shivakumar, who handles the missing persons complaints at the station, Anjali’s parents had complained to the Police Commissioner, who had directed the DCP to look into the matter. He said:
The DCP informed us, and we filed a missing person complaint. The girl was traced to Koramangala on 26 May, where she was living with another woman. We could not bring the girl back as she is not a minor, but that’s when we realised that the two women were in a relationship.
Once they realised that the two young women are in a relationship, the police, in all their wisdom, decided that the logical next step was ‘counselling’.
According to the police, Anjali and Asha are now being counselled by the Mahila Sahayavani – a body under the police – to “make them realise the negative impact of their decision.”
The Inaction That Led to the 'Disappearance'
The police revealed that before attending to the missing person complaint with such haste, they had neglected multiple requests for help from the woman in question.
Anjali had visited the police station multiple times before she decided to leave her family, and had told the police that she did not wish to live with her parents as “the living conditions were unbearable.” The officer said:
The girl said that she was not happy living with her parents as she felt she could not live freely and happily.
And when she did, the police apparently did what they’re best at doing: ‘Counselling’.
“We had spoken to both the parents and the girl, and it seemed like they had come to an understanding, but the girl came back the second time and said the same thing. Then too, we had counselled the parents and the girl and sent them home,” officer Shivakumar said.
Now, Anjali’s parents want to file a complaint against the couple. But the police cannot do so, as there is no section of the law that disallows two consenting adults from living with each other. Shivakumar told TNM:
The younger woman’s parents told us to file a complaint against the two. But since they are both adults, we could not arrest them or file a complaint unless one of the women in question wanted to. So, we referred the case to the Mahila Sahayavani.
The Mahila Sahayavani, or the Vanitha Sahayavani, is a helpline service provided by the Bengaluru police which, according to their website, gives “Immediate rescue and support for women in distress.”
When TNM contacted the Sahayavani, and asked them what sort of counseling the two women were being given, a senior counselor said:
Anjali and Asha are being counselled on the repercussions their actions will have if they do not change their minds. We are thinking of providing psychiatric counselling for the girls, and their parents will also be roped in.
An official with the Vanitha Sahayavani said that the case was referred to them as Anjali’s parents had stated that Asha had “wrongly influenced” Anjali.
“They (Anjali’s parents) suspected that their daughter may need psychiatric help. Which is why the case was referred to the Mahila Sahayavani,” the official added.
Is It Criminal to Be Lesbian in India?
Being lesbian, or gay or bisexual, is neither a mental illness nor a criminal offence in India. While it is popularly believed that Section 377 criminalises homosexuality, the archaic law doesn’t mention homosexuality – or even heterosexuality – at all.
The IPC section states:
“Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with 1 [imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
“Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.”
Which means, that any penetrative sexual act other than penis-in-vagina is criminalised by this law. That includes even oral or anal sex between a consenting man and a woman.
What the law definitely doesn’t criminalise is two adults deciding to live with each other.
So does the police have any business telling them to go back to their parents, or insinuating that they are mentally ill?
While the law has been used to harass gay and lesbian couples, according to Lekha, a lawyer from Alternative Law Forum, it cannot be used to criminalise a sexual orientation, only sexual acts. Lekha explained:
The Supreme Court judgement in the year 2013 states that a person cannot be booked under Section 377 based on identity. Identity as in the person’s sexual orientation.
It varies from case to case and since both of them are consenting adults. This will not become a criminal case unless one of the women becomes the complainant. Since both the women do not have any problem, it is not a criminal case.
(This piece was first published on The News Minute and has been republished with permission.)
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)