Campaign Spotlight: Pride Parades in India

In Issue 4, 2007 of In Plainspeak we had covered the topic of queer pride parades all over the world, and the symbolism of the parade in the lives of queer people. Though the parades have been held every year in many cities all over the world, Kolkata has been the only city to host the parade in India for the first time in 1999 and then from 2003 onwards. Not any more.

On June 29, 2008, it was for the first time held simultaneously in Kolkata, Bangalore as well as New Delhi in India.

The Queer pride parade in all the three cities this year was quite a euphoric moment for many who have been waiting for it to arrive for years or maybe decades! The idea of the queer pride parade is not new. Historically, it marks the day of the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969 when there were a series of conflicts that took place between the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender population and the New York police at Stonewall Inn. This day signifies the resistance put forward by people who do not conform to sexuality and gender norms imposed by society. Over the years this day is used to celebrate pride among sexual minorities across the world.

On June 29, 2008 there was apprehension about how many people would come to the parade, would it be peaceful, and would there be adequate and supportive media coverage. The parade in Delhi was organised by a group of more than 30 people who had come together to help prepare for the event. The preparations included seeking police permission and support, publicising the parade, and arranging for rainbow flags, masks, candles etc. There was a conscious move not to represent organizations during the parade especially the ones who are members of Voices Against 377 (VA377). VA377 is a coalition of individuals and organisations who are working towards reading down of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which is a colonial law discriminatory towards same sex desiring people. The coalition aims to put adult consensual same sex activity outside the purview of the law. Because VA377 is one of the petitioners for the on-going court case in Delhi, it was thought better not to mention or display the names of organisations and the coalition for the parade. However, despite all these apprehensions people turned up and that too in large numbers!

The parade in Delhi began at 5:30 in the evening at Tolstoy Marg and the colourful crowd proceeded towards Jantar Mantar amidst much revelry. There were approximately 600 people present including gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender and straight people, families, children and even a large dog, a Great Dane who aroused as much interest as the flamboyantly bedecked transwomen! The overall atmosphere was of joy and happiness. Faces gleamed with pride and the hope for a new world with more tolerance, empathy and understanding for each other. Of course, there were also people who wore colourful masks as they were not comfortable to reveal their identity for fear of discrimination from family, friends and society.

Public statements were made against section 377. At the end of the walk to Jantar Mantar, there was also a peaceful candle light vigil to show solidarity for the cause. The response of the onlookers was mixed - some people were curious and interested to know more while some others showed their disapproval. But the overall spirit was that of exuberance.

Not only was the parade successful, the media coverage has also been immensely encouraging and gratifying. There were parades in Bangalore and Kolkata too on the same day. In the first-ever event of its kind in Bangalore, the sexual minorities community of the city came together to celebrate their sexualities. The march started from National College grounds in Basavanagudi and culminated at the Town Hall. People sported messages such as ‘I am the pink sheep of my family’, ‘Repeal IPC Section 377’ and ‘Love knows no gender’. Similarly, in Kolkata, lesbians, gays, transsexuals, bisexual and heterosexual people marched through the streets from College Square to Esplanade East on a ‘Rainbow Pride Walk’.

People walked away from the parades with the hope that there would be many more spaces in the coming years that people can claim without being judged or discriminated against because of their sexuality. The crowds walked back home with the euphoria of having created history.