Gay Man in India Beheaded

Gruesome murder followed consensual sex between two bakery co-workers

In a grisly incident in India, an 18-year-old man beheaded a male co-worker following a sexual exchange in which the victim was apparently lured away from the premises of his workplace to the outskirts of Halol, a town in the rural northwestern state of Gujurat.

Local reports of the gruesome crime attracted the attention of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), a New York-based advocacy group, which blamed the murder on a “culture of shame and fear promoted by homophobia.”

Police have charged Naushad Pathan with the murder of a man identified only as Dilshad, his colleague at a bakery. Pathan told police, according to Ahmedabad India, an online news outlet, that he felt coerced into having sex with the victim and that afterwards, in a state of shame, he hacked off the man’s head with a knife following a brief struggle. In Pathan’s home, police found the murder weapon, bloodstained clothes and a bicycle, which both men rode to the site of the killing.

The news site reported that the men had engaged in “unnatural sex,” without providing further details. A local police official identified the victim as a gay man.

After killing Dilshad, Pathan changed his clothes and returned to work. The next day, upon discovery of the body, the bakery owner, a relative of the deceased identified it. During an investigation, police detained six persons, but Pathan confessed to the crime and the other five were released.

According to a United States government fact book, India has a population of more than 1.65 billion people, making it the largest democracy worldwide. While no statistics exist for the number of Indians who are gay, according to 2001 figures, the country had roughly four million people living with HIV.

Homosexual sex is outlawed in India and many provinces and localities strictly enforce sodomy laws.

Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director, said that her group routinely monitors international news reports for incidents of anti-gay bias, and that the Indian incident warrants attention, not only because of its “gruesome nature,” but because of the extent to which anti-gay shame played a role.

Ettelbrick noted that a such violent murders often stem from governmental repression of homosexuals, in this case the 2003 refusal by a Delhi high court to consider a 2001 petition by gay advocates to suspend the region’s sodomy laws for consenting adults.

At the time of court arguments, the national government filed a brief stating that the criminal sodomy laws in the Indian Penal Code, vestiges of the British common law from the colonial era, cannot be repealed because “Indian society is intolerant to the practice of homosexuality/lesbianism.”

In a nation as populated and diverse as India, there are likely hundreds of thousands of lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, some of whose stories are chronicled in Pukaar, the monthly magazine of the Naz Foundation, a British-based advocacy group for HIV-positive people and queers of Southeast Asian descent.

Shivananda Khan, the group’s founder and chief executive, will soon to be honored by Queen Elizabeth II for his accomplishments, including his work in helping homeless youth, establishing a British network for South Asian lesbians, gay men and bisexuals and campaigning for HIV/AIDS ser

A study in Pukaar’s January 2005 issue, “Homosexual activity among rural Indian men,” surveyed the sexual behavior of nearly 3,000 men in five rural districts throughout the country. The authors wrote that homosexual activity, including among married men, and particularly among males under 30, was common. In Puri, a district of the state of Orissa, the study estimates that 17.3 percent of single men and 9.4 percent of married men were “homosexually active” within the past year, and that, on average, men with male partners also had more female partners than those males who were exclusively heterosexual.

What role, if any, these sorts of social patterns played in the death of Dilshad, the gay victim in Halol, is completely speculative. However, for Ettelbrick, it is clear that India’s sodomy laws allow authorities to wantonly harass and persecute gay men.

“What has been documented with sodomy laws is how they are used by police and law enforcement to harass and at times detain gay men without proper cause,” said Ettelbrick.

When asked if her organization had detected a recent pattern of violence against gay Indians, Ettelbrick acknowledged that no other incident approximates the severity of the Halol murder, but that two young lesbians were recently denied housing because of their openness about their sexuality.

Ettelbrick said that her organization partners with local advocates around the globe to mount challenges to homophobic laws and counteract repression. She said that her group plans to mount an appeal of the Delhi court sodomy decision but that a specific legal strategy awaited finalization.