On 26 March 2014, at around 11 pm on a muggy night in Mumbai, a 31-year-old engineer in Mumbai was taken aback by the brusque knocks at his door. The engineer was a little anxious. Just 20 minutes before, a man called Sahil had come to visit him. The two men had been casually chatting on Planet Romeo—a social networking application for gay, bisexual and transgender men—for the past few months, but this was the first time they were meeting in person. Sahil had taken his shirt off and was preening in front of the mirror when they were both interrupted.
The engineer opened the door to face two men. The new entrants forced their way into and began admonishing the engineer, asking him if he and Sahil were gay, and whether they were having sex. One of the men threatened to reveal the engineer’s sexuality to his family, adding that he would call the police on Sahil and him. Nearly 15 minutes after the ordeal began, the men left with Sahil, but not before they beat the engineer up and robbed him of Rs 5,000, his laptop and his camera.
The engineer did not pursue any action against his assailants until he read a newspaper report about a similar episode. Through this story, he discovered that Sahil had previously targeted at least one other man by arranging a rendezvous online under similar pretences, only to arrive at the designated location with his accomplices to rob the victim later. On 4 April, last year, around 10 days after the engineer had met Sahil, he filed a First Information Report with the police.
“I had heard about one such incident,” the engineer told me when we met on 19 October 2015, “But I never expected it would happen to me.” A short, jovial man, he said that he was hesitant about approaching the police initially. Even when he did, with the help of lawyers and gay activists, they tried to dissuade him. The police warned the engineer that such a case would prove to be a daily nuisance, reminding him that he had been the one to invite Sahil over.
Although Sahil and the engineer had not been physically intimate, the engineer’s sexuality made him an easy target for extortionists, many of whom operate with impunity across the city, and the state. The three men in this case—Rais Riaz Shaikh, Avdhoot Vijay Hatankar and Sahil Abdul Shaikh—have been arrested and are out on bail. They are now facing trial for assault and extortion.