He was one of the few Indians to be invited to the Oprah Winfrey show, was one of the candidates for Time Magazine’s World Top 100 Most influential People list in 2007, have been quoted and interviewed by respected magazines and news dailies from all over the world; he is one of the most prominent face in LGBT rights activism and HIV awareness activity; he hosts an annual cultural festival at his palace for homosexual artists to celebrate their talent and their being, yet he is someone who is hardly talked about on Indian mainstream media. A convenient silence, deafness and blindness prevail on us when it comes to homosexuality – but not any more.
I wrote about Prince Manvendra Singh on this space exactly a year ago on my post ‘Its time to stand up and stand tall’ where I said “only when the number of people identifying themselves as queer is large enough and the faces known enough will the society realize it is not something so unnatural after all. And this responsibility lies with LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people themselves to come out of their closet and be confident of their sexuality. It’s time to stand up and stand tall.”
And they did. In just one year the queer movement in India has grown by leaps and bounds. There are more popular culture celebrities who now openly support homosexuality, most vocal of them being Celina Jaitly who have called out for gay rights in India in her blog on Times of India. The last year or so saw movies like ‘Partner’, ‘Dostana’ which had both explicit and implicit homo-eroticism and gay rights advocacy. While our cinema and advertisement have always had depiction of male homosexuality albeit in a funny and derogatory manner, we have been terribly silent over female homosexuality. This also changed (very insignificantly) in the recent past, a certain Virgin Mobile TV commercial is the case in point, where a girl tells her father that she is not interested in going out with this boy from her class. The father gets all worried thinking she might turn out to be a lesbian and insisted she goes out with boys more.
We have India’s first ever transgender celebrity Rose Venkatasan on Twitter which in itself is a great sign.
And now India prepares for a never before celebration of Queer Pride with events and pride marches being planned in all of the 5 metros. The month of June is celebrated as queer pride month all across the world to commemorate the Stonewall Inn incident on 28th June 1969 and the series of protests that followed at the in Greenwich Village in New York. [Useful Link - list of queer pride march in other countries ]
Pride march is a way to tell the world that “we are who we are and we are not ashamed of our sexuality.” It is also a way of saying that “we are not going to be cowed down by the norms set by society and wouldn’t be ashamed of our sexuality even when we have to face ostracism.” In India a pride march also means a protest against criminalization of homosexuality and the voices this year is loud and clear.
Bangalore will kick start ‘The Karnataka Queer Hubba’ this Sunday, 21st June 09. The Hubba is a week long event celebrating queer pride with a series of interesting activities, talks, seminars, film shows etc running up to the Bengaluru Pride 09 on 28th June.
Some of the significant events lined up as part of the Hubba are: Queering the Pitch: Cricket Match on 21st June; Dalit-Sexual Minorities Dialogue on Stigma and Discrimination on 22nd June; Release of Human Rights Watch Report – This Alien Legacy: The Origins of “Sodomy” Laws in British Colonialism on 23rd Jun; Pirat Dyke Film Screening of One in Ten and Desert Hearts on 24th Jun; Public Discussion on Religion and Sexuality on 25th Jun; Story Telling Sessions on 27th Jun and more.
Pride march will begin at National College, Basavanagudi at 2:00 p.m and go up to Puttanachetty Town Hall via Sajjan Rao Circle and Minerva Circle and will culminate with a series of speeches as the crowd gather on the Town Hall steps. Last year the march was attended by as many as 600 people and this year the numbers are expected to be even higher.
The March and the Hubba are a collective effort of various organisations and individuals under the banner of Campaign for Sex-workers and Sexual Minorities Rights (CSMR)
Delhi would have its 2nd Queer Pride March on 28th Jun 09 at 5.30 pm starting from Tolstoy Marg to Jantar Mantar. This year it is expected to be attended by even greater number of people and is going to be much more fun and frolic with wedding bands, rainbow colored flags, fancy masks and lively people of all kinds. There would also be street plays and talks at the end of the march. Like Bangalore, the Delhi march is also being organised by LGBT people and allies under the banner of ‘Delhi Queer Pride Committee’ and not by any particular organization. The official blog of Delhi Queer Pride says, “Queer Pride is a celebration. It is about loving who we are, whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, hijra or straight, and affirming everyone’s right to be respected.” (Useful Link1, Link2, official twitter)
This year Chennai would hold its first Queer pride march on June 28th, Sunday, 4 pm Marina Beach from the Triumph of Labour statue to the Mahatma Gandhi statue. The call to join the march goes out to Lesbian, Gay, Kothi, Aravani, Bisexual, Trans folks and Straight allies as they all enter Chennai to celebrate June as the pride Month. Besides the main march Chennai has also been organizing events to celebrate the pride all through the month of June.
The celebrations kick started on 5th of June by Amour, a multimedia Bharata Nathyam dance performance by Shanmugha Sundaram, produced by Sathir Natya and sponsored by Alliance Francaise of Madras and SAATHII.
On 22nd June Monday, 6.30 pm, South Indian Film Chamber Theatre, Anna Salai, there would be a screening of the Oscar winning film ‘Milk’ as part of the South Indian Film Chamber’s Oscar Film Festival, in association with the US Consulate.
On 26th June, Friday, 4 pm there would be held a ‘Support Group Meeting’ for parents and siblings of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Chennai. Facilitated by Center for Counseling, a non-profit organization, the meeting will provide a supportive and confidential space where parents and siblings can ask questions, get factual information, and most importantly, meet other parents who are struggling to cope with similar issues relating to their adult children.
In Mumbai while the feelings and emotions to celebrate the pride perhaps remain the same the Mumbaikars prefer to call it the Queer Azadi March and it is held on 16th of Aug to signify the freedom movement for queer people in India. The emphasis of the march is more on the unjust law of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that in effect penalizes homosexuality. To quote from the official blog, “The choice of date, 16th August, was in order to make a statement that while the rest of India had got its independence from the British on this date in 1947, queer Indians were still bound by a British Raj law (Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced in 1860) and Victorian mores that have corrupted traditional Indian acceptance of alternate sexualities.”
Planning is yet to begin with full force for 2009 Queer Azadi but small steps have already been taken. The intention is always to make it bigger than the last year so perhaps we would see a lot of interesting activities from the LGBT community in Mumbai in August. Meanwhile here’s a link to the media coverage of last years queer azaadi.
Kolkata and Bhubaneshwar
Full fledged preparations are also on in Kolkata and Bhubaneshwar however the dates are not decided yet. Kolkata happens to be the first proud city in India to have held a gay pride parade way back in 1999. In 2005 the Rainbow Pride Week was celebrated from Jun 20 to Jun 25 with much stronger participation than before. The Rainbow week consisted of film shows, art exhibitions, discussions and dance performances all meant to create spaces for dialogue and understanding devoid of hate, stigma and harassment against LGBT community. The week long celebration concluded in Rainbow Pride Walk through Southern Avenue, Gol Park, Gariahat, Ballygunge and Park Circus.
This year the queer pride date is colliding with Kolkata’s Municipal Elections so they are reconsidering 28th June as the pride date. I will update this space with more information as I get them.
I have not been able to find any more information about Bhubaneshwar except that pride march preparations is on for the first time there.
The next steps: United effort optimizing the use of New and Social Media
The above listing is enough to prove a point – a point that I have already repeated. It is now only a matter of time that we get rid of the archaic law. A petition filed by Naz Foundation is at its final stage in the High Court of Delhi. During the arguments hon’ble court have been pro LGBT rights in its observation. My personal thought is that right after these two months of queer pride celebration the Court would pick it up and give the final orders which would go down in the pages of history as the true freedom for queer people in India.
Meanwhile there are still more efforts required from Queer community. As more and more city join the queer pride celebrations there is a need of a common national body which could support/promote/document the movement. Right now each city is doing it at their own level but their has to be a unity, coordinated movement, an army of peace loving queer people need to be built which would continuously be negotiating with the lawmakers for recognition of homosexual relationships, family units, property distribution, domestic violence etc.
Use of new and social media is still very minimal in the civil society sector. Internet is the only medium which is static, you can’t see the re runs of a TV news for more than 2 days, you won’t find the newspapers of 2 weeks back but anything you document on your website or blog would show up on the search results even 10 years later. It is important to document the movement on internet. I for one couldn’t find enough content on the Kolkata rainbow pride walk, they don’t have a website or a blog yet which are much needed. As and when smaller cities join the movment it would get even more difficult to follow them all via mainstream media. None of the city organizers have thought of designing HTML support badges and banners to be put up on their website to support the pride which is what young techie India needs today.
Hopefully in 2010 when I come back to this space writing on this topic I would be updating you on the same.
Till then do show your solidarity by writing about it on your blogs, micro blogs, help the movement being documented, which ever city you are go ahead join the march, take photographs, videos, make films and upload them on youtube. Spread the joy put some more colors in your life.