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Decode

A 20-Year-Old Went On A Grindr Date. Now He Is Fighting A Court Case

Queer people hope to find connection on Grindr. But what happens when a date turns into a nightmare?

By - Jaishree Kumar | 19 Jan 2024 6:07 AM GMT

In a crowded courtroom in Saket District Court, a 20-year-old waits for his case to come up. He is surrounded by police personnel, lawyers in black robes, and the men who assaulted him. His fight is not just legal, but it’s personal. He needs to prove that he was raped, something that the legal justice system does not recognise as a crime if it’s same sex.

Arnab Adhikari is one of the few queer Indians exposing the crimes and sextortion cases that have been going on for far too long with dating apps such as Grindr.

Trigger warning: The story contains graphic details of violence and sexual assault.

On May 22, 2023 Arnab, an undergrad student in Delhi, was just looking for a night of fun. The young man, originally from West Bengal, was new to Delhi’s gay dating scene and logged onto the Grindr app. He matched with a man called Ansh (name changed), a 20-something with a place of his own and called Arnab over.

As soon as Arnab entered Ansh’s room, located inside a chawl, he knew something was wrong. Arnab recalls a big screwdriver lying in the middle of the room which was completely empty barring a cooler. “I need to leave,” blurted Arnab as sweat trickled down his back. Was it the blistering May heat or fear? He didn’t know. “You entered here on your own,” said Ansh. “But you’ll leave only when I say so.” Like clockwork, Arnab told Decode, three men emerged barging from the gate: one with a gun; one with a knife; and another with a wooden rod. “You’ve got the wrong idea; I need to leave now,” Arnab had pleaded.

The three men allegedly gangraped and assaulted him for hours.

“I kept telling myself, they won’t think of killing me here. The gunshots and my screams would be loud enough to wake up the whole neighbourhood,” he recounted. In the middle of assaulting him, the men found his caste certificate in his bag and hurled casteist abuses on him. They also demanded 300,000 rupees from Arnab which he didn’t have. He was then forced to call a number of his friends and ask for close to 33,000 rupees. “I transferred all the money to them, nearly emptying my bank account but they still wouldn’t let me go.”

The men began filming the assault on their phones, which continued until late night. Around half past 11 o’clock, the men dragged him out of the apartment and tried to take him to an unknown location in an e-rickshaw. When the e-rickshaw stopped, they tried to stab him, but Arnab ran away as fast as he could.

Arnab met Ansh on Grindr, a social networking app for queer people. The app runs on being discreet and anonymous, a relief for many queer people still in the closet. “I was not expecting being raped and extorted after agreeing to a Grindr date with a guy,” said Arnab. In queer dating circles, this kind of harassment through Grindr which includes violence – often sexual – and extortion, are like an open secret.

Many of Arnab’s friends and acquaintances have lost their hard-earned money this way, but often, there is no redressal for cases like these.

When Arnab walked into the Sarita Vihar police station to file a complaint, he felt like his legs could snap and fall off any minute. It didn’t help that the police officers passed comments on his sexuality and mocked him. He recounted every harrowing detail of the previous night’s assault to the inspectors who discouraged him to file a police complaint. “They couldn’t understand how a man could get raped. Once they understood the issue, they pressed me to take an out of court settlement.” The police officers allegedly told Arnab that videos of the assault, as well as the money stolen from him along with additional money for damages will be returned to him. “You’re a young university student, do you have the time to run around in police stations and courts?” a police officer taunted him.

At the time of writing this, two of the perpetrators are out on bail as they were juveniles, one is lodged in Tihar jail, and one is on the run.


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Such crimes live as an open secret in the queer community, and shame, exclusion and trauma further prevent people from filing a legal case. Arnab, however, had his mind made up when it came to filing a complaint.

While filing the complaint, one of the cybercrime officials allegedly told Arnab, “you want dick, and I have one too, we can just have sex in a corner.” The other officers allegedly cheered him on, even going to suggest that there are AC rooms in the police station to have sex in. For Arnab, police brutality was the price to pay in a country that does not recognise same sex sexual assault.

The initial FIR also neglected to mention several key things in the case: Arnab was bleeding from his abdomen after the assault; he had cigarette butt marks all over his thighs; the casteist abuses Arnab faced; the fact that the perpetrators threatened to kill him with the gun. Aranb’s medico legal checkup was also not done properly; the staff at AIIMS allegedly said: ‘how do we prove a man can be raped?’

Court documents that this reporter has access to have revealed that the metropolitan magistrate noted that the inspecting officer wasn’t making enough efforts to catch the remaining two perpetrators on the run. It also noted the discrepancies in the FIR, and Arnab’s allegations of his statement being manipulated. “The allegations are extremely grave and the investigation cannot be carried out in a routine manner and hence the investigation was sought to be monitored by DCP concerned. However, it appears that the repeated directions of this court have fallen on deaf ears,” the magistrate noted.

This reporter tried to get in touch with the SHO of the Sarita Vihar police station, but they did not respond to calls. In a brief conversation with investigating officer SI Parveen, who is incharge of the case, he claimed that the remaining perpetrators will be arrested soon and the four accused aren’t a part of a larger gang.

Arnab, who is a student at the University of Delhi, now divides his time between court hearings at the district court, the juvenile justice court (as two of the perpetrators are minors), and the police station. He has access to legal aid with the help of the Naz Foundation, counsels Advocate Nishant Kumar Balyan and Advocate Raavi Kumar Jotwani appearing for him. He now gears up for a legal battle to prove his assault in court.

Meanwhile, Grindr works with an alluring anonymity. A sea of nameless profiles with shirtless photos, photos of genitals, or just emoticons solicit sex from each other. Names usually say: “meet now”; “looking for top”; “looking for bottom”; “have place, need to fuck” and more. There are almost never any real names – it’s too risky. Instead, people use their initials. Grindr profiles further break down the person’s physical attributes and their preferences. Is the user short but lean and muscular? Or tall and fat? Do they like hairy men? Or feminine men? Do they indulge in crossdressing? What’s their HIV status? When did they last get tested for HIV? How many metres away are you from your next wild hookup – could it be the stranger walking in front of you?

Grindr gives all these attributes to anonymous virtual profiles likely run by queer people still in the closet, or people looking for a quick, discreet way to have sex such as married men. In a space where queer dating is not spoken about too openly, Grindr is one of the most popular apps for queer men to look for hookups. Founded in 2009, it’s also one of the oldest dating apps. The app does not have public data on the number of Indian users, but it officially claims to have 11 million active monthly users across the world and earned $50.4 million in revenue in 2022’s third-quarter.

Grindr’s virtual design to guarantee anonymity and discreteness has led to issues for queer people in countries where homosexuality is illegal. In Egypt, where homosexuality is not illegal but queer people continue to live under threat, police officials used the app to lure and entrap queer people in order to arrest them. Grindr issued a warning on the app, but is that enough?

Arnab’s case is not the first case of assaults of queer men through Grindr. In December 2022, a young man died by suicide after perpetrators threatened him – they met on Blued, another gay dating app.

According to data provided by The Humsafar Trust, out of 27 crisis calls they received from 2021 to present day on similar cases, 17 of the cases happened through Grindr, 5 through Blued, 1 through Instagram, 1 through Planet Romeo, 1 through an unspecified social media app and 2 through the phone. The data further shows that 9 of the cases happened in Mumbai, 3 in New Delhi, 1 in Bengaluru and 7 in undisclosed locations. There are also logs of singular cases happening in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities like Patna, Indore, Tiruvannamalai, Pune, Faridabad etc.

The issue is not just crimes being committed, but also the lack of redressal and support mechanisms. “Indian rape laws do not recognise same sex sexual assault. Rape is an act committed by a man towards a woman,” said Kanav N Sahgal, a legal researcher and activist with Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. “So even if someone like Arnab goes to report the incident to the police, his FIR will not include the Indian Penal Code provisions on rape.” This reporter has access to the FIR copy which mentions assault, but does not include the Indian Penal Code sections on rape and sexual harassment.

Even on the app, redressal is difficult. Arnab’s attackers blocked him immediately after meeting him. Even if one is to report someone, chances are, there is little action taken towards them.

In response to a questionnaire sent by this reporter, Grindr responded with their protocol to deal with such cases. “We at Grindr are acutely aware of this deeply troubling situation,” a Grindr spokesperson said. “Our features, such as disabling location visibility and adding pin code protection, aim to enhance security. Safety tips in Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, and more, along with a diverse Sexual Health Resource Center in 12 Indian languages, prioritise users' well-being. The video calling feature ensures identity verification, while multiple reporting avenues, including in-app reporting and help@grindr.com, strengthen our commitment to addressing abuse. We condemn the perpetrators of this violence and will continue to fight for the safety and security of the LGBTQ+ community,” they added.

 In their safety guide, Grindr says “Although Grindr works hard to ban scammers quickly, they do exist and you should be wary. Some ‘sextortion’ scammers may record and use intimate messages or video content against you. Scammers may try to get you to move to email or video very quickly, as they know they will be blocked from Grindr soon. In general, we recommend keeping communication on Grindr until you’re completely comfortable.”

Sudip Dey, a content manager faced a similar kind of extortion and harassment in 2019, when he lived in New Delhi. The person on the other side of the screen refused to share phone numbers, social media handles, or even photos. He asked to meet him in Bhogal market, where Sudip lived. “He tapped me on my shoulder and I instantly found him very rude, there was something really off about him and the way he conducted himself,” recalled the 32-year-old, now based in Bengaluru.

As soon as Sudip said he would be leaving, his Grindr date grabbed his collar and started demanding money. “He was pressuring me to take him to my place and pay him for sex, I never agreed to any of that.” Terrified, Sudip tried to run towards his flat but the man snatched his glasses. “He continued to shout expletives at me and demand money while slapping me. Everyone around us just stared at us.”

Eventually, the attacker was distracted by a phone call and Sudip took that opportunity to run for his life. By the time he reached home and opened the app on his phone to report his Grindr date, he noticed his profile had disappeared. “He probably blocked me. I had no trace of evidence, just marks of being harassed."

The lack of safety around queer dating apps and these extortion and harassment cases lie at an intersection of fast developing technology, legal and police reforms failing to keep up, and stigma towards the LGBTQ+ community in society. Lack of redressal mechanisms on apps, and stigma from police officers as well the shame associated with sextortion and being queer further invisiblises and marginalises queer people who have been through it. For many of them, there is no support mechanism. Recently, a gang in Lucknow was busted for sextortion cases.

Sudhanshu Latad, advocacy manager at The Humsafar Trust says, “While being involved in crisis management, we continue to observe that individuals who are not out of the closet with their identity are primarily targeted by online fraudsters. Fear of being misunderstood by the law enforcement authorities discourages them further from formally pressing any charges.” Latad further added that the Humsafar Trust continues to collaborate with local law enforcement bodies to address the gap in sensitisation towards queer communities. 




 Unlike other dating apps, Grindr does not engage in user verification through images. The app does use phone verification, but Blaise M Crowly, a cybersecurity consultant says one can easily fake that by using deep fakes. Crowly further argues that the app’s anonymity design further enables such crimes, but that’s why such an app exists. “Grindr is for people who want that anonymity, it’s a need for the LGBT+ community who may not be out to everyone. So if Grindr were to roll out an image verification process, it would instantly see a drop in its number of users.”

Sahgal, the legal researcher and activist on the other hand believes that such apps should have verification protocols and people can choose to remain anonymous if they like. “I can understand anonymity in the era of Section 377, when gay sex was illegal. But now, it’s been five years since decriminalisation of gay sex and we’ve come a long way. I think a middle path guaranteeing verification and privacy should be worked out.”




 


Both Sahgal and Crowly agree that India’s legal system and police have failed to keep up with technological advancements that lead to sophisticated crimes such as sextortions.

“Grindr has had data leaks and has paid fines for the same, that’s not as scary as the app having no verification systems to beat AI,” said Crowly, who also runs an AI customer service company. “I fear in the next few months, we are going to see an implosion of AI bots on dating apps and when crimes happen because of it, no one will know how to deal with it.” Sahgal further added that India’s police officers must be sensitised to the violence and challenges the queer community faces, while advocating for change in reforms that recognise the sexual abuse of queer individuals. “It’s not about the laws, though. It’s also about the speed the police are willing to work with. If there is a cybercrime, catch the perpetrator within thirty days or he’s likely gone forever,” said Crowly.

Caught in a web of intricate crimes, Arnab keeps his troubles to himself, only a few close friends know of the incident. He is hesitant to tell his family. “After the attack, I was terrified. I was depressed and unable to cope with my emotions, going to therapy and the support of the Naz Foundation has helped me through this hard time.”

As he patiently waits for the wheels of justice to turn inside courtrooms, Arnab finds himself confronting his assailants face to face. “I get anxious when I see them, but I hold onto hope for justice,” he declared.