When we almost got arrested for being gay in Delhi

Stefan Arestis

Don't get us wrong, we absolutely fell in love with India.

But its government has had issues accepting its LGBTQ community over this past decade. It all started in 2009 when the Delhi High Court invalidated a very old law dating back to 1861 (Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code), which criminalises gay sex with up to 10 years in prison. The Indian Supreme Court then reintroduced this in 2013, but thankfully in September 2018, this anti gay law was finally overturned in a landmark decision.

Today, being gay in India is no longer a crime, which is big news for the country's LGBTQ community.

We interviewed local boy Raj from Delhi anonymously who said that the former anti-gay laws were used by the authorities as a validation for all sorts of bullying and harassment of the LGBTQ community, in particular the Indian police who use it as a way to get bribes.

We experienced this first hand in Delhi when we were almost arrested in a gay club in Delhi in 2016 at a time when the anti gay laws were in place.

gay scene in Delhi arrested in gay club
Policeman in Delhi

The gay scene of Delhi

Our first stop in India was the buzzing and chaotic city of Delhi. It was our entry point into the country and our base to visit the Taj Mahal.

As a big city with over 10 million, we were expecting it to have an active gay community. Unfortunately, most online resources about gay bars or clubs in Delhi were outdated.

Since 2013 when the Supreme Court made being gay illegal, there are no openly gay hangouts. If there were before, now they were closed down and everything forced underground.

One of our favourite mobile apps for our travels includes the gay dating apps like Grindr and Hornet, which we use to connect and meet locals during our travels. Our experience in Delhi was a classic example of when we needed this. Using Grindr, we were able to tap into the scene and discover the venue of that week’s party: Knight by Castle 9 at Connaught Place.

So, dolled up and ready to party, we hit the town.

ready for gay scene in Delhi
Heading for a gay night our with our friend Andrew in Delhi

The gay party itself was a lot of fun. It was heaving full of locals dancing and drinking, having a good time.

Just as we whipped out the selfie sticks to start capturing the evening, a burly bouncer quickly took us aside and sternly told us that all photography is strictly prohibited. They were only trying to protect their clientele who were naturally sensitive about their family or work finding out they'd been to a gay place.

Suddenly at around 1am the music stopped.

All the lights were switched off and window blinds pulled down.

Everybody was asked to stay inside the club, be silent and under no circumstances, go outside.

The police had arrived!

Everyone in the club was blazé about it. This happened at all their parties. It was just the way it had always been.

We, however were freaking out…

  • What if we have to go to some dodgy Indian prison cell?
  • What's the number of the UK/French embassy?
  • What are your rights if arrested in India?!

Our Indian friends reassured us, explaining the policemen were simply looking for a bribe from the promoters and would leave everyone else alone.

It was just the way it had always been.

Knight club by Castle sign gay party Delhi gay scene
The venue for the gay party when we were in Delhi

We waited for around 20 minutes. At one point one young guy tried to leave through the back door, but the burly bouncer smacked him and told him to wait inside to avoid antagonising the police.

Eventually the policemen’s bribes were settled and everyone was asked to leave via the back door, one by one, and go straight home.

No one got hurt. No one was arrested. And most shocking for us, nobody seemed to care!

This was all part of an average gay night out in Delhi.

Although we were able to laugh it off afterwards, we were so shocked that this is what the Delhi LGBT community have to live with every day.

gay scene Delhi almost arrested gay club
Our “we were nearly arrested in Delhi” tuk tuk selfie on the ride back home

This would never happen in London!

Back home in London, or anywhere else in Western Europe or North America, this would never, ever in a million years happen!

Any police presence in Heaven or XXL would be to protect us from something, not for a bribe! Our Police even have their own float at London Pride and let us kiss them and take silly photos with them.

London gay scene easier then Delhi gay scene
Sebastien the angel kissing one of our friendly policemen at London Gay Pride parade

We were just shocked that in India, the very people who are supposed to protect you are instead the ones you have to bribe to leave you alone.

We truly hope the Indian Supreme Court takes the initiative in its review of Article 377 to make the correct decision and repeal it once and for all!

Should gay travellers boycott India?

On the contrary!

We strongly believe that gay travellers should not boycott travelling to India. If you're respectful of local customs, we think India is safe for gay travellers.

STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL

Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, avoiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off your first booking.

As a foreigner you will be quite safe. No one wants any embassy issues, least of all the police. More importantly, going there as a gay traveller you would not only be helping to raise awareness with everyday folk that gays are like any other person, you would also be supporting your local sisters there.

And let’s face it, India has the potential to be very gay: with a population of over 1 billion, there's statistically over 100 million gay boys waiting to party with you!

Oh – and have you seen some of the carvings at religious places like the temples of Khajuraho?!

Delhi gay scene erotic carvings gay sex
Back in the old days, anal sex seemed to be the norm in India judging by these ancient temple carvings in Khajuraho

SEE MORE FROM OUR TRAVELS IN INDIA IN OUR VIDEO:

 

Happy travels are safe travels

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Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, an activity or your insurance, we’ll earn a small commission. There is never an extra cost to you for using these links and it helps us keep the site going.

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Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor and author the gay travel blog nomadicboys.com. As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about travelling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gay Times, Gaycities, Pink News, Gay Star News, Attitude and Towleroad. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practised as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

99 thoughts on “When we almost got arrested for being gay in Delhi”

  1. I Love The way you Live your Life And Inspire Other People That don’t Be Afraid Of out side world and communities. Thanks A Lot For this Kind Of information And inspiration.

  2. It’s sad that things like that happen in the world 🙁 You’re right, police in the UK would have been there to protect you. Whatever people say about police in England, I think they are the nicest guys and also very helpful.
    On the other hand, closing down bars like that happens in Thailand all the time. In Chiang Mai everything closes at midnight. Some bars tried to stay open after that, but the same things happened: lights went down, police came, took bribes and kicked everyone out. One time we even had army soldiers there, who without knocking started checking female toilets. That was scary, too.

    • WOW! Happened to me in a club in Puerto Maldonado (Peru) before – police came and they left with bottles of white powder they found in the loos (!)

  3. oh wow that is interesting and kind of scary adventure. Do you know if this is similar in other cities in India like Bangalore? I’m going there on a work trip next month and was wondering if I should try and check out the gay scene there.

      • Deal, I will let you know :). I hope to have time to explore the scene, but not 100% sure since I will be there working a lot at our offices. I kind of expected it be more liberal since there is a large young population there and its an IT hub.

  4. Lights suddenly switched off and told not to move? Thats a norm?! I would have flipped out and like you, wondering about my rights! What an adventure, I’m glad you both are safe! Great stand on not boycotting anti-gay countries too! Those carvings though, my goodness.

  5. I’m constantly shocked by lack of acceptance around the world, but I love that you guys don’t let it slow you down. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I think it’s important to raise awareness, and to keep doing what you love no matter what. You’re an inspiration!

  6. On the bright side you weren’t arrested or even detained. I do wonder how much bribery goes on in India. Do other non-gay specific clubs regularly have to pay brides? I know in parts of Africa brides are collected for everything under the sun. It doesn’t mean its right but it’s the way things are run.

  7. How horrible that you had to go through that experience, and how horrible that locals have to deal with it every day! Bribery and corruption are not ok. Hopefully they repeal the law once and for all.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience! I believe that this will help raise awareness as well. It’s a really sad reality though for most countries that the attitude toward the gay community isn’t as good — but it’s always my hope that those countries slowly but surely ease up and be more accepting. It may be a long way to go but I’d like to believe that it will happen soon.

    Nevertheless, it’s great that you enjoyed your adventures in India nonetheless and that you don’t promote boycotting of any sort. I myself believe that often times, doing things that way doesn’t help as much.

  9. It’s hard to wrap your head around something like this still happening, but coming from the U.S a situation like that wouldn’t happen. Very disappointing, but I’m glad you guys were able to spin a positive light on the situation and encourage people to visit. Unfortunately, there are still countries that have a corrupt government/police force.

  10. Its really how disappointing how gay people are treated this way. Its like stripping their rights.The things people do for money…ugh so infuriating.

  11. Stories like this make my blood boil. I’m annoyed at backward laws like this that are still in force – i hope for not too long anymore. I’m sorry you had to experience this – must have been a very frightening experience. Especially after the Bataclan incident – i would have honestly pooped myself thinking I was being shot or something. I’m glad this was all just about some bribing money and you were left in peace.

  12. Interesting experience – thankyou for sharing to raise awareness. It’s sad that the reality is that the laws in India are continually used as a way to bully and harass the LGBT community, and even sadder yet that “it’s the way it always has been”. But hopefully the supreme court will come through and the country will see change.

    I’m glad that you enjoyed your time in India, and I’m glad that you’re happy to promote travel there – I honestly believe that boycotting a nation due to it’s laws isn’t going to change anything, rather, being there on the ground and witnessing the culture firsthand offers a chance to understand a culture to then effectively seek to change it.

  13. I’m originally Indian (but born, raised and based in Dubai) and I always say how in India, sometimes the focus is on things that are so irrelevant in present times- and these kind of laws are an example of this. Quite an adventure and quite the story for you guys but my dream for my country is to step up and step into present times with a more tolerant attitude and an open mind. I’m glad to hear that you loved India!

  14. I really wish the indian law and mentality (well, not only indian for sure) changes! Not only for travellers but mainly for locals, that must be free to live and love in the best way

  15. That’s too bad it is a common occurrence, but glad they are reviewing the law this year and that you guys still had a great time in India! Sounds like a fun party until the cops came!!

  16. First, thank goodness everyone was ok! Second, its just outrageous (though not surprising)! The world needs a great big dose of tolerance. I’d think it is this type of backward thinking that creates more of a culture shock than anything else.

  17. What a crazy night for you guys! But good thing you still enjoyed your night out. Yeah, it’s probably gonna take a long time still for some countries to accept the LGBT community. But definitely dont let that hamper you into traveling. 🙂 What a very interesting carving they have there.hehehe

  18. I completely agree with not blocking any country out, I was guilty of this for years before realising by ignoring the countries I was simply ignoring their peoples problems.

    India is a funny one, I try and understand the local LGBT situation every where I go but In India I didn’t meet anyone and it was pretty hard to strike up a conversation about it. The caste system and treatment of women also really shocked me. It was certainly a lot less progressive than I expected and also, as you point out, a lot more corrupt. It’s a shame so many countries still cling on to the crappy UK laws we left them with so long again – hopefully through tourism they break down soon enough.

  19. Wow, what an experience, and while intense travel experiences often make for a good story it is sad that such a law exists and is used to facilitate corruption. Glad to read that you guys don’t believe in boycotting the country, we hope to make it to India one of these days!

  20. It’s terrible that one has to worry about perhaps having an incident with the police while you’re traveling. Corruption is a horrible reality in many countries and I hope that will change with more people visiting. I’m glad you were able to go home safely without incident.

  21. I love your stand on not boycotting and instead encouraging visiting to raise awareness- good for you!
    I can totally understand your panic though, India is NOT somewhere I would want to end up in jail. Not that I want to end up in jail anywhere! I would be terrified. Glad it didn’t go that way though.
    Ps: that carving made me laugh out loud.

  22. Miss you guys! And so sorry that your selfie stick got taken away – at least our time together wasn’t the first time that happened. BTW, I LOVE that pic with the police here in London. It is freaking adorable and he’s hot.

  23. I’m reading this on the same night of the Sydney Mardi Gras. Where the whole of Sydney is awash with rainbows, glitter and celebration. If I was in your situation i Delhi I think I would have been a quivering mess, quite scary.

  24. Such a shame that it is still not accepted in many parts of the world. However, I assume the police is just trying to find ways to get some extra income and they are probably happy about the existing laws :/

  25. It’s a shame that the laws have regressed here in India. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to hide.

    I have lived in Goa for 3 years now, but actually the police do this to bars and clubs here all the time and it doesn’t have anything to do with gay/straight it’s just about money and liquor laws.

    Glad you guys enjoyed Delhi anyways!

  26. Dear lord! I loved your video right at the end! HAHAHAHAHA. So many relatable incidents crammed into that song. Hit me up next time you guys are in India. Love to catch up if I’m home too.

  27. Just to add some perspective to this story — this isn’t LGBT specific. There is also a likelihood that the cops didn’t bust the place specifically because a gay-party was in swing. Most major Indian cities (I can vouch for Mumbai and Delhi) have strict closing times — I’m guessing things are stricter in Delhi, because it is generally considered a less safer place to be out at in the night than Bombay is. I have lived in Bombay for most of my life, and I’ve partied a lot in the last 4-5 years I lived there. A LOT of times, we used to get kicked out of established joints by 1 am-ish, and we’d then move the party off to slightly less established (read: more underground) places. Quite a few times, these places get raided/visited by cops, because technically they are open after closing time, and they aren’t allowed to, and the exact same chain of events ensues. So it isn’t necessarily an ‘anti-gay’ thing, although your particular incident could well have been one. It’s true that India has a ridiculous anti-gay law, but at least people in the urban circles are very chill about it, and in fact, I’m pretty sure that some time soon the government’s going to have to scrap the ridiculous 377. Just a few days ago we had a major gay-pride event in Mumbai, and the turnout was massive. The pressure’s definitely growing, and we should hopefully see a change soon. Despite all this, I don’t think India is unsafe or gives you an additional reason to worry about for being ‘gay’.

    • Thanks for the comment Sanket but this was in Connaught Place in the safest part of the city. It was meant to go on till around 3am. The police apparently get wind of where th gay parties are and plan their bribes around this! So glad Mumbai Pride went ahead ok 🙂

  28. Noooooo way! I am amazed this kind of thing even happens, although not sure why. This post was so interesting tho, prob an experience I will never have, but you write it so I feel like I am right there with you. 🙂

  29. Love how you guys are always able to be positive and throw in something funny, no matter what you are talking about! It is hard for me to wrap my head around the police singling a particular group of people out like that. How frustrating for the community, though it seems like they take it in stride. Did you guys ever feel like you were being singled out or unsafe while traveling in India?

  30. I wouldn’t like to minimise what happened to you that night in Delhi but this kind of incident is not at all happening to gay establishments only… What we have to understand is that in India (as well as in Sri Lanka) everything linked to sexual activities or even linked to sex in general, is highly taboo. I saw, in India as well as in Sri Lanka, cops harrassing young straight couples for the mere reason that they were “too closely” seated on a bench of a public park or a discreet street… What I’m trying to explain is that, even when 377 will be deleted from the Penal code (asap hopefully), it can’t be expected a sudden tolerance for display of affection… Kissing in public for a straight couple is still regarded as a gross indecency and it will remain like that for a while despite things are changing little by little… If you visit India or Sri Lanka, I confirm that you’ll find an important (sometimes huge like in B’lore for instance) gay life, community, etc. It’s something relatively new and it has been bubbling mainly under the influence of gay movements worldwide… However, undeground, for ages (as suggested by the temples statues pictured here) there’s a generalized space – but never mentionned and always kept unsaid even in the best guides- for same-sex activities (calling it “gay” may probably be insufficient). Go to bus stands of any Indian city, public toilets, parks, river sides, etc., specially at sunset, use eye-contact “international” codes, show interest even to people who don’t speak a word of English, be smiley and sweet, you will be rewarded hundred times… (Take care too, as usual)

    • Thanks for your comment Santiago. How funny about the public toilets, parks etc 🙂 But not sure if I agree about it being the same for everyone? None of the straight bars we went to were ever raided by police!

      • Hi, what a worrying experience that must have been! I definitely wouldn’t want to see the inside of an Indian jail, especially having done nothing wrong. However, Santiago is right. I live in Mumbai and it is very common for the police to harass young couples who are ‘getting too close’ on the seafront (where young couples hang out to cuddle). They also routinely break into hotel rooms if unmarried couples are cohabiting a room.

        This is from a report of an incident that happened in Mumbai last year when police raided hotel rooms: “What followed was indeed astonishing. The police rounded up around 40 couples, all of them adults, and took them to the police station. While three people were booked under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act – ITPA, the rest of the couples were booked under Section 110 (indecent behaviour in public), kept at the police station till 10pm in the night and let off with a Rs 1200 fine, even though no one has been to explain how a private hotel can be considered ‘public’.”

        If you travel in the north (Shimla, Manali etc…) you will notice that your booking says that a marriage certificate could be requested upon arrival. As a foreigner, I was never asked to show one (which is a good thing because I am not married to my bf), but my Indian friends say that they would be expected to produce it.

        It’s a sad state of affairs, but right now India is going backwards not forwards. Gay travellers should definitely NOT boycott places like India, I have gay Indian friends here who need support from guys like you. They need a government that changes these archaic laws.

        • OMG what a story! Thanks for the comment. Let’s hope the Supreme Court makes the right decision this time round.

  31. Great article and good on you for encouraging people to visit the country even though some of it’s legislation may be against their own life and lifestyle. The best way to open people’s eyes is to keep being awesome. Just like you two!

  32. The bribe thing is pervasive. Not so much in the US, but for sure here in Mexico. We always used to say: “What is the most dangerous time to drive around in Mexico?” Answer: Just before Lunch Time because, if the cops see a Gringo they think they can fluster, they would stop them and hit them up for enough of a bribe to eat a good lunch. Once we became more invisible here (local car with local tags, State IDs, tax stamps, etc) we no longer are subjected to this, and truth be told that is more in Cancun or Merida. Not our little town. Once, we even turned the table on one guy who seemed very nice any way, and invited him to lunch with us. He took us to this amazing bar / restaurant that served ice cold beer and drinks for almost nothing, and all the food you could eat for free. Delicious stuff too, not just chips and salsa. We went back for years after that and even saw him there again another time. Life is so much fun if you get out and enjoy it! This was an interesting story about India, and one to keep in mind while traveling just about any where that you do not know the law or speak the language fluently. The harassment used to be common place in the USA too. Crazy laws like your hair could not be too long, or you were guilty of female impersonation, and even your clothes had to conform to your gender on an ID card. Not all that long ago in San Francisco, CA.
    You guys are great! Keep the stories and pictures coming!
    Fred

  33. Oh..why am l not surprised about this? Police bribery seems the norm in all these countries. The government is so corrupt and the pay so little, most turn to bribery to survive. Glad you guys came out of it okay, but it must have been scary as hell :-).

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