Time and again incidents of extortion and sexual abuse on gay dating apps have surfaced in the country. Though after the decriminalisation of section 377, most extortionists have lost their primary premise for extortion as gay sex is no longer a crime in India, the closed structure of Indian society still leaves a lot of room for abuse of this community.
Ishaan Sethi, co-founder and CEO of Delta app, cites an incident which happened in New Delhi’s five-star hotel, The Lalit. Sethi was having a discussion in the coffee shop with Keshav Suri, scion of the late hotel magnate Lalit Suri and Executive Director of the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group that owns the Lalit chain of hotels. During the discussion they noticed that somebody was objecting to the presence of a transsexual person who had just walked in to the management. “This random person gets up and says why are you letting these people in?” recalls Sethi. The incident made Suri, who is also an LGBTQ activist, livid and he berated the person.
Such incident is a regular occurrence in the life of LGBTQ community in India, where homosexuals, transgender and transsexuals are frowned upon. In a scenario where venturing out and socialising is a task for people from these communities, dating becomes even more challenging.
According to Sethi, the reason for high number of extortion incidents on dating apps is this inability to come out and meet people in public. “It is a big problem; also a direct cause of the issues of extortion, blackmail and unsolicited sex because there is lack of places for people to go out so where will people meet? In their homes,” Sethi adds.
Sethi himself had come out in 2010 while he was in the US and his move back to India made him feel isolated. This frustration, which Sethi particularly felt after he moved back, made him start Delta app. Initially, he crowd-funded about Rs 10 lakh to start the app and later raised funds of Rs 2 crore from a bunch of investors including Keshav Suri, Truly Madly’s Sachin Bhatia, celebrity chef and restaurateur Ritu Dalmia and Vivek Sahni, CEO & Co-Founder, Kama Ayurveda.
The app, launched in April 2018, however, is not just about dating but is meant to be a place where LGBTQ community could connect with each other and find support. Currently, it has more than 50,000 users and over a million message exchanges, Suri claims. The dating feature of the app is called ‘Connect’ and there are other features and groups for people to just network.
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However, Suri has taken great pains to ensure that the app is not just another gay dating app and is a safe and secure place for people to interact. To ensure this, the company has disabled screenshots on Android phones. About 50 per cent of the app’s audience is from smaller towns in the country and most of them use Android phones. Also the users on the app invite more users and give trust score to them; the users have to also link their Facebook profile to the app, however, no one except the user can see their profile on social media.
The app is tapping ‘freemium’ model and brands for monetisation. The third feature of the app includes brands and they can promote as well as advertise on the platform. Mostly, fashion and lifestyle brands are tapping the platform as of now. Delta also holds sensitisation workshops at the workplaces.
“We have a couple of things that are in the works, for example, bookings etc. through the Delta network but we have not formally launched yet,” Suri says. According to Suri, about 70 per cent of their audience on the app is male, about 20 per cent female, and remaining 10-15 per cent is the Trans and non-binary community. Keeping in consideration, the traction they have been seeing from smaller cities and towns, Delta soon plans to introduce regional languages on the platform.
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