New Delhi: They say love has no boundaries. But many same sex couples in India rue that despite homosexuality being decriminalised, they cannot publicly display affection. Toilets and trial rooms in stores are among the few places available to them to cosy up.
"We`ve got our rights on paper under Indian law, but `society` is still not ready to understand our behaviour. Homosexual love is still taboo in the eyes of the masses and that is a problem," Akshay Gupta, a 25-year-old Delhi resident, who is in a relationship with Gaurav, told reporters.
Filmmaker and gay activist Sridhar Rangayan, the founder of Mumbai-based The Humsafar Trust, told reporters: "When two young guys in a metro hug or hold hands, it could be seen with disapproval. Funnily in the cities it is more difficult to find spaces to be together (compared to small towns and villages)!
"That`s why in search of love and sex, gay and transgender men risk getting into places and situations that are problematic - like public toilets and parks. They are easy bait for extortion by policemen."
In 2009, the high court decriminalised consensual sex between gay men by repealing Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, but the public display of affection is still a no, no for such people.
"Though Section 377 is repealed now, the law against public indecency and nuisance stays. This certainly prohibits people from having romantic encounters in public. Since most of us stay in extended families, finding a private space for being together is always difficult," said Rangayan, who directed "Pink Mirror", India`s first film on drag queens.
For straight couples, holding hands and taking a stroll in the neighbourhood is acceptable, but such gestures are still a far cry for those who are dating same sex people.
"For us, display of affection has become a concern. For (normal) couples, it is easy to express their feelings, but for us, it is a difficult task because eyes follow us wherever we go; restrictions are forced on us," Akshay, who works as an IT professional, added.
There are a few lucky ones whose partners have a place where they cozy up and Gaurav is happy Akshay has that privilege.
"My partner stays alone in a flat so it becomes easy for us to share private moments because we end up spending most of our time there," said Gaurav who works with Akshay in the same firm.
But for others finding a solitary place away from the prying eyes to have comforting closeness of a partner is an uphill task.
"Homosexuality is generally considered taboo and has been a subject of debate for Indian society and the government. But when the court has given the nod then why does society still look down on us? They no more have the right to do so," said garment exporter Rahul Khanna, 29.
"Despite knowing that our feelings are natural, we have to struggle to find places to share our intimacy," said Rahul, who discovered his sexual preference four years ago.
So where do homosexuals go for dating?
"As we are of the same sex, it is not very difficult to get entry in toilets or trial rooms in shops. Me and my partner love to get intimate in confined places," Aditi Khurana, 22, who works in a call centre and has been in a relationship with Priya, told reporters.
Because of the not-so-open society, others also prefer confined places.
"My partner and I have many times booked rooms in cheap hotels for a few hours. Making love in a car or a theatre is very common," said Rahul.
Aspiring model Dhruv Sharma, 23, who has been in a relationship with another man for six years, said: "If we compare our freedom to share affection with that of heterosexual couples, I would say we do not get the same space. We can`t hold hands in public and can`t hug each other because a hundred eyes will be on us.
"Regular couples sit in parks and gardens, but we can`t because we feel scared. It is not that somebody will come and beat us up, but we fear the attention we get even after not wanting it," Dhruv said.
"In-house parties are a great saviour for us. We friends get together and party hard. It is not that our party has only homosexuals, it is a mixed lot," he added.