Police in northern India raided a secret gay club and arrested four men on charges of homosexuality, which is illegal in the country, officials confirmed Thursday.
Detectives also seized more than 1,000 telephone numbers of people contacted by the gay club organizers in Lucknow, the capital of India's state of Uttar Pradesh, senior police officer Ashutosh Pandey told.
"Four persons, all of them in their early thirties, who were members of the gay club have been arrested for perpetrating homosexual activities," Pandey said in Lucknow on Thursday. He said the members urged others to join their club through Internet chat sites.
Gay people are vulnerable to arrest in India because homosexual sex is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Pandey said that through a Web site run by the gay club organizers, "gay people were invited to assemble in a public park. They were asked to carry a white handkerchief in their hands and their code word was `white."'
The group, called "Talaash" or `search,' was created by Nihal Ahmed, a married man who works in a government office, Pandey said. Ahmed told police the group has more than 100,000 members and more than 1,600 people chatted everyday.
India is deeply conservative on sexual matters. Heterosexual couples rarely kiss or cuddle in public. Gays in their daily lives face discrimination, ridicule, blackmail and persecution by police and government agencies, human rights campaigners say.
The law against homosexual sex was enacted under British colonial rule in 1861. Sex with animals is also punishable under the same law.
However, fewer than 50 people have been convicted, mainly because judges tend to be lenient and authorities are reluctant to stir sexual controversy, the AP reports.