Mumbai’s gay community rallies for freedom

August 16 will see Mumbai’s largest gay pride parade ever

Weeks after three other metros stole a march on Mumbai to commemorate the anniversary of 1969’s Stonewall riots in New York, our own city’s gay community plans to come out in a show of national pride on August 16.

Singing, dancing and walking under banners screaming Queer Azadi, gays, lesbians, eunuchs, bisexuals, kothis, transsexuals and a several others of alternative sexual orientations will don pink Gandhi topis and other fabulosities in their own long walk to freedom.

The event kicks off at 4pm at August Kranti Maidan and ends with a candlelight vigil at Chowpatty. It is being described as an attempt to cast off the shackles of an outdated legal system. Queer is an inclusive term that unifies people of alternative, or non-heterosexual, sexualities, and this event brings together nearly a dozen disparate human rights and advocacy organisations towards a common goal.

"This is pride as it relates to India’s freedom struggle," says gay activist Ashok Row Kavi, of the organisation Humsafar. "We may be free from the British, but we are not free from their outdated laws."

Keith J. Fernandez, for DNA

The timing of the event and its route – August Kranti Maidan is where Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement in 1942 – have been specifically chosen to highlight the fact that India’s queer community is still largely marginalised.

Even as the story of a resurgent, booming India gets retold time and again, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code punishes those indulging in carnal intercourse ‘against the order of nature’ with up to ten years in prison. "This is purely a British law, the British corrupted traditional Indian culture by introducing homophobia into our society," adds prominent gay blogger, Nitin Karani.

A petition by NGO Naz Foundation to declare the statute unconstitutional is currently being heard by the Delhi High Court.

Organisers hope the Queer Azadi event will serve to raise awareness and sensitise the community at large, says event co-ordinator and lesbian rights activist Geeta Kumana, of the organisations Aanchal and Infosem. "We want to show we are visible and to send out the message to people in small cities and towns that they are not alone," she told DNA. "We’re also going to be talking to heterosexuals about the problem homosexuals face."

Besides queers from across the country, Row Kavi says some heterosexuals will even be lending their support, including trade unions and workers’ groups.

The date is already prominent on the city’s gay calendar: Humsafar and other organisations have been holding similar events, albeit on a much smaller scale, on August 16 every year for the past four years.

Mumbai’s queer leaders have supported and even helped kick-start pride events in other cities, says Row Kavi, who promises that from next year, the city will host two pride events.

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