Multimedia Producer: Kunal Mehra
Camerapersons: Mukul Bhandari, Sumit Badola, Abhishek Ranjan & Shiv Kumar Maurya
Production Support: Aviral Shah and Hussain
(The Quint is republishing this story in the run-up to the anniversary of Section 377. It was originally published on 27 July 2019.)
In February 2015, Rohan* (name changed) met a man he had been talking to on Grindr. He had a casual dinner in mind; his profile on the app said he was looking for a “life partner” as opposed to sex, a common outcome of dates which transpire via the app.
However, the man Rohan met didn’t take him out for dinner. Instead, Rohan was robbed, beaten, pushed into a car and taken to an unidentified location where he was gang-raped for three days straight. Rohan required medical aid to recover from the emotionally as well as physically traumatic experience: pipes were inserted into his genitalia to help with excretion as his anal tissues had sustained damage. At a loss for where to seek redress, Rohan plunged into depression.
From Casual Dinner to Gang Rape...
It began innocuously enough: Rohan received a text from a user who claimed, on his profile, to be a 26-year-old gay man. He sent Rohan a few photographs and soon, the two started talking over the phone. A week later, he asked Rohan to meet him and his friend from Mumbai for dinner. “He said it was a casual dinner, so I agreed,” says Rohan.
Rohan had reached the pre-decided venue in Delhi’s Paharganj when the man called him to a park near Gole Market, about 1.5 km away. Rohan soon sensed that something was awry and started running away, unfortunately a little too late.
“Two people arrived on a motorbike and stopped me. One of them held the phone, while the other grabbed me by the neck. They claimed that they were getting a call from the police and threatened to get me jailed if I didn’t pay them Rs 5,000. Suddenly, two people came and pushed me inside a car. While one person was at the rear-end, the other was driving the car. He beat me a lot. I fell unconscious after that.”Rohan
When he regained consciousness, Rohan saw “a man mounted” at his back. He had been injected with several rounds of sleep-inducing drugs and flitted in and out of consciousness as the men took turns to gang rape him.
Rohan was held captive for three days, after which the men threw him near a garbage dump. He was discovered by an elderly man in the wee hours of the morning. Rohan initially took shelter at a doctor friend’s home, and then headed back to his own. However, he couldn’t open up about his horrific experience to his parents, whose company, although comforting, was of little help as he feared being judged and that his mother would react drastically to the news.
“I was really depressed at that time. I was suicidal. I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether I should complain (to the police) or not. I would question myself, why was I born this way...” he said, recounting his days of despair.
Country-Wide Data Suggests a Pattern
Rohan is not alone. The Quint spoke to six other men who were harassed by men they had met on dating apps for gay men. According to the Humsafar Trust, 18 cases of harassment on gay dating apps were registered in Delhi-NCR between 2017-18. Similar cases were reported in other states as well, 40 in West Bengal, 21 in Maharashtra, 19 in Karnataka and 20 in Kerala.
However, these numbers do not, in any way, reflect the bleak reality. Many narratives are never heard as they are of gay men who haven’t come out to their family, and do not seek help from queer-centric NGOs and/or the police.
A Deadly Date
A year has passed since Ankit* faced extortion at the hands of a man he had met via Grindr. He has still not shared his experience with his family. In March 2018, the 28-year-old MNC employee met his date in Delhi’s Govindpuri, after chatting with him for a week. Since they’d been in conversation for a while, Ankit didn’t think twice before letting his date drive his scooty.
However, things took a turn for the worst when Ankit’s date drove them to a fast-food outlet and began ordering food...
“I had told him that I wasn’t carrying my wallet, but he still started ordering food. When I reminded him again, he shouted saying that he was “paid” and that I should have thought about this before meeting him.”Ankit
Ankit’s ‘casual’ date had turned into a nightmare. The food outlet’s patrons started at the two as they talked. Worried that his identity as a gay man which he had so carefully kept hidden from the world would be disclosed, Ankit asked his date to leave the restaurant. When they were outside, Ankit found that his date had edited his description to say he was “paid”. He questioned the man, who didn’t budge from his stance, and threatened to call his friends with whom he would cause much more uproar.
His date had not only turned out to extort him but had also threatened to reveal his sexual orientation at a place his family and friends frequented. Ankit had little choice but to concede to his date’s demands and hence, paid him Rs 3,000. However, the ordeal wasn’t over at that. His date attempted to coerce him into eating biryani on a day of the week he observed vegetarianism. Ankit pleaded with the man for fifteen minutes and finally got back his scooty’s keys and drove back home.
Beaten & Extorted for Being Gay?
Yet another man to whom The Quint spoke, had been beaten and tortured by the accomplices of a young man he had met on Planet Romeo, also a dating app for gay men. The survivor, Vishnu*, had gone to meet his date in a hostel in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, in April 2016. As soon as Vishnu stepped inside the hostel room, the man and his friends charged at him and beat him without reason.
The gang at the hostel had only been mongering after money, and humiliated Vishnu and “gays like him” for bringing disrepute to the country and for despoiling its culture. During his six-hour long ordeal, Vishnu received many threats but kept himself from reacting.
“They were talking amongst themselves that after 10 pm they would kill me... That they would cut me into pieces and dump my body and that no one would come to know. I was not responding. I was just listening. I was hell scared to death...”Vishnu
Vishnu’s money and mobile phone was taken away but he was let go. He returned home and told his family he had been beaten and robbed by strange men. Even many years later, Vishnu, like Rohan and Ankit, hasn’t told his family the truth.
“I know that I am a little effeminate. Right from school, I have faced taunts and slangs from people. I know what I went through in my childhood. People would call me two-in-one, girl... I come from a family that lives in such an environment. People around think in this fashion. My parents worry more about what others think of us. If they had known about this incident, they could have taken a drastic step. I didn’t want that to happen,” said Rohan in explanation to why he hadn’t told his family and thus, the police.
Grindr Responds, Planet Romeo Stays Silent
Moreover, The Quint spoke to at least four other men who had been extorted by men they had met on dating apps. All four cases took place in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, and followed the same pattern: the men received a text from a good-looking man on the app, who later asked them to meet. Upon meeting them, he claimed to be “paid” and called his accomplices, with whom he threatened the men.
While six out of the seven survivors The Quint spoke to said that they had been harassed by men they had first spoken to on Grindr, one said that he had met his assaulter on Planet Romeo. Following these accounts, we reached out to both the dating applications for gay men and sought information on their lack of security features.
Our Questions for Grindr:
- Is Grindr aware of such incidents taking place in India or elsewhere?
- What recourse does a person have on Grindr if he faces harassment and extortion at the hands of other users on the app?
- Has Grindr received any such complaints through its ‘Report User’ function? How many such complaints have been reported on the app? What action has been taken by Grindr against users reported for such activities?
- What steps does Grindr take when a user is reported for harassment/bullying/impersonation/illegal activity?
- Is Grindr taking any action to stop solicitation and ‘paid’ profiles in India and in other places? Would Grindr consider adding a specific section in the ‘Report User’ section for the same?
- Why does Grindr not verify the e-mail ID of new users during the registration process (we found that an account can be set up using a completely fake email ID)? Why are users allowed to log-in using fake e-mail IDs? Shouldn’t there at least be a requirement to access an activation code?
- In a bid to increase security, other dating apps have made it compulsory to log-in either via Facebook or using a valid mobile number. Why hasn't Grindr done the same?
- How does Grindr plan to tackle the menace of fake profiles and those behind them, who usually engage in extortion?
- Is Grindr planning to add any additional security and verification procedures ? If yes, what are these features, and when will they be rolled out?
What Grindr Said:
“Grindr is deeply committed to creating a safe and secure environment for our users. Any fraudulent activity is a clear violation of our terms of service and something we take very seriously. We encourage our users to utilise the in-app reporting functionality, and reports of inappropriate activity will be reviewed by our moderators and customer support agents, who then remove offending profiles as appropriate. We are continually assessing our practices and implementing new measures to provide a safe environment on our platform. Grindr works with a number of LGBTQ national and regional groups in India and they inform us of specific areas that are in need of a safety warning and then we place them accordingly. Through our Grindr for Equality platform, we’ve worked closely with Varta Trust and SATHII in order to direct users in India to the health and legal services locator. Through Grindr for Equality, we are on a mission to help LGBTQ people around the globe. Our wide-ranging initiatives impact communities large and small on issues that matter to them the most, such as safety, sexual health, advocacy, and more.”Grindr
Almost a week after we reached out to Grindr, the dating app made it temporarily compulsory for users to register either through a mobile number or via Facebook and phased out the e-mail option which had allowed users to register and log-in using a fake and unverified e-mail address. However, just two days later, Grindr switched back to the e-mail option, once again allowing for fake profiles to be registered. However, this time, the app banned accounts set up using fake or unverified e-mail IDs in cases where users didn’t verify them using the link sent to their respective e-mail IDs.
We also reached out to Planet Romeo, which too doesn’t verify users’ e-mail ID. However, the dating app hasn’t responded thus far.
(This piece will be updated with comments from Planet Romeo, if and when they respond to our queries.)
(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.)