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HindustanTimes Fri,25 Apr 2014

World

US grants asylum to gay couple from India
Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times
Washington, January 03, 2014
First Published: 23:14 IST(3/1/2014)
Last Updated: 13:50 IST(4/1/2014)

The US granted asylum to a gay couple from India last December just days after the Supreme Court re-criminalised homosexuality in a controversial decision.

That ruling, in fact, bolstered the couple’s case before an immigration judge that they feared persecution and imprisonment if they were sent home.

Jagdish Kumar, 28, and Sukhwinder Sukhwinder, 25 are now with a relative in Wisconsin, free to live and work here in the US, according to their lawyer Clement Lee.

Both Kumar and Sukhwinder are from Haryana and met at a dance school in Chandigarh. Kumar taught dancing there and Sukhwinder was one of his students. They fled India in June 2012 as Kumar was being pressured by his family to marry a girl. And he couldn’t tell them he was gay because he feared persecution, and bodily injury.

"Kumar had seen how an uncle of his was treated when he came out – he was beaten," said Lee, speaking for the two men who were not immediately available for comments.

Kumar and Sukhwinder reached the US in June 2013 traveling through Cyprus, Dubai, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

"Instead of sneaking into the US as other undocumented immigrants," Lee said, "they went straight to an immigration official at the El Paso, Texas border and sought asylum."
They had expected to be welcomed. "But that’s not what happened," said Lee.

They were held in an immigration jail in Texas, in separate cells.

Their request to be allowed to stay with a relative in Wisconsin, who had a green card, was turned down. And so was their request for parole, four times.

Immigration Equality, an organization that helps LGBTs fleeing persecution at home, helped Kumar and Sukhwinder argue their case before immigration authorities.
Lee, who works for the organization, said, LGBT asylum seekers have to convince the judge that, one, they are gay, and two, they face persecution at home.
Kumar and Sukhwinder testified for each other.

"What made their case really compelling was that a week and half before their asylum argument here, a court in India re-criminalized same-sex conduct," said Lee.

The Supreme Court had reinstated IPC section 377, which had been struck down by a high court earlier, making homosexuality a criminal offense as enacted in 1862.
The Supreme Court order came on December 11, and Kumar and Sukhwinder were granted asylum around December 20, finally free to live together.


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