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article image‘Love bums, not bombs’: India celebrates first legal gay parade

By Mathew Wace Peck     Nov 29, 2010 in Lifestyle
New Delhi - Thousands of people have turned out to celebrate India’s annual New Delhi Gay Parade, the first such event since last year’s decision by the Delhi High Court to decriminalise homosexuality in the country.
The crowd gathered early in the day to march from Delhi’s Barakhamba Road to Jantar Mantar.
This year's parade follows the striking down, in 2009, of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which made homosexuality illegal.
The court's decision marked a significant moment in the struggle in India for LGBT equality. However, many people recognise that the battle against homophobia and discrimination is not yet over, with the Indian Supreme Court still to uphold the judgement.
Speaking to the Times of India, one gay activist, Gautam Bhan, said:
It has been a year since the Delhi high court decision decriminalising homosexuality under Section 377 came out. And the change is visible. Though the judgment dealt only with the reading down of the existing law but the effect has been dramatic. Suddenly being homosexual became a legitimate identity.
Accordingly, Mohnish Malhotra – a member of the Queer Pride Committee and one of the parade organisers – told the Hindustan Times that the parade was a protest against discrimination faced by the LGBT community as well as a celebration for what they’d already achieved. He said:
Not only lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders participated, many other people also came out. The most heartening thing is that families of many members of LGBT community also came to support them. Slowly things are changing.
We are protesting against discrimination faced by the LGBT community. The community is often subjugated to violence by police and thugs. They are blackmailed and forced into marriage by families, which leads to suicides.
Ashok Das, who took part in the parade, explained to DNA India why there was still much to campaign for. He said: “It is still socially unacceptable. Many gays have to keep their sexuality concealed, many are married.”
However, according to the paper, attitudes are slowly changing, at least in India’s major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. “Eighteen months ago, only one bar catered to Delhi’s gay community, but today a host of nightclubs host regular gay nights as owners and promoters look to cash in on the “pink rupee”, it said.
Bharat – a lawyer who came out last year – confirmed to the Times of India that attitudes were changing, and that gay people were becoming less fearful as a result. He said, “Last year, we had ordered 1,000 masks which most participants wore. This year, we got only 300. No one wanted to hide behind a mask.”
And, in celebration mood before the event, Malhotra told the Times of India: “Earlier, we were in protest mode. This time we will be giving out candy and rainbow-coloured mufflers.”
Another gay activist, Hillol Dutta, summed it up for many, telling DNA India, “Last year it was about protest, but this year it is all about celebration. It has only been a year, but it has been a huge year.”
This was the third annual gay pride event in New Delhi, but the first one since homosexuality became legal again in the country – and the change among the parade-goers was very apparent. Members of India’s LGBT communities were joined by many heterosexual supporters and people from other countries from around the world. One such supporter, Rati, said, “I have come here today to support my friends, several of whom are homosexuals. Acceptance is the need of the hour.”
Another, Raman Shukla – who was in the city with his wife on other business – decided to join the parade. He said: “We don’t know anyone here at the parade but still decided to join as we strongly feel for the cause. Also, it is fun to see so much colour and excitement among the people.”
Meanwhile, Saurabh Gaur, a straight man taking part in support of his gay friend, told DNA India: “Change is good, but you have to take small steps. The youth have accepted it, but I think it will take at least 10 years before society in general accepts homosexuals.”
According to eyewitnesses, “acceptance” was the buzzword throughout the day, with people dancing, singing and cheering as they went. They carried banners and wore T-shirts, proclaiming statement and sentiments such as “Pink Sheep of the Family”, “I Am Queer, Do You Hear”, “Yes I am! So?”, “My Hero is Homo” and “Love bums, not bombs”.
The parade lasted approximately three hours and ended at Jantar Mantar, where marchers lit candles as a symbol of their commitment to the cause of equal rights for gay people. Mohnish , one of the event’s speakers, told the assembled crowd:
Originally, the word queer was a slur for those deviating from society's definition of sexually normal behaviour. This parade though has reclaimed the word to empower, celebrate and unite who are marginalised because of their gender identity.
British Empire
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (Chapter XVI) is a piece of Indian legislation that was introduced during Britain’s rule of India, It criminalised sexual activity, including homosexualty, which was “against the order of nature”.
The movement to repeal Section 377 was led by the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, a non-governmental organisation that works to promote sexual health within India.
Section 377 was “read down”, in July 2009, to decriminalise same-sex behaviour among consenting adults in a historic judgement by the Delhi High Court.
In April this year, Sanjay Sharma’s film, Dunno Y... Na Jaane Kyon (Don’t Know Why), received its premiere at India’s first mainstream LGBT film festival – Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. The film is significant in that it features Bollywood’s first-ever gay kiss – between the two male leads, Akshay Kumar and Kapil Sharma.
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