India: Gay Pride hits the streets of Delhi, Bangalore & Kolkata to overturn 19th-century's prejudice Print E-mail
 Monday June 30 2008

Gays, lesbians take to the streets

NEW DELHI: Hundreds of gays and lesbians on Sunday paraded the streets of Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore, pressing for changes in the law to end their stigma and discrimination.

Transvestites taking part in 'Bengaluru Pride,' a rally to commemorate Stonewall Riots that was instrumental in according respect to gay rights a few years ago, in Bangalore on Sunday. Deccan Herald Photo

Dressed in colourful clothes and adorned with tattoos and body piercings, the marchers shouted slogans against Section 377 of the IPC which defines un-natural sexual practices and announced their sexual preferences.

The marchers participating in the “Delhi Queer Pride 2008” rally, the first of its kind here, walked for an hour from Barakhamba Road to Jantar Mantar.

In Kolkata, lesbians, gays and transexuals marched through the streets from College Square to Esplanade East on a ‘Rainbow Pride Walk’ watched by Sunday crowds.

The marches were the first display of gay pride in Delhi and Bangalore.

“This pride march has got a historical connection. Same day in year 1969, police in New York raided a gay bar called Stonewll Inn, as they humiliated and even arrested the people present in the bar. But the people, showing rare courage for the first time, protested,” Shayani Mullick, a gay rights activist, said.

Dancing to drum beats, drag queens (men dressed in women’s clothes) and others wearing “masks” carried a large “rainbow” flag while they held placards. ­ PTI
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 London ~~ Monday June 30 2008, Page 15

Behind masks or out and loud: gay marchers break new ground

Delhi holds first parade as campaigners seek to overturn 19th-century law

Maseeh Rahman in Delhi

View video HERE

Hundreds of gay rights activists made history by taking part in Delhi's first gay pride march

Yesterday was the biggest day in the life of one 26-year-old insurance agent in Delhi, yet he came to the city's long-awaited first gay parade hiding behind a mask.

"I have to remain invisible," he said. "If my parents see me on TV, I won't be able to go home. And if my colleagues recognise me, there'll be hell to pay in the office."

The gay insurance agent is typical of millions of Indians condemned to lead a double life since, much like in Victorian Britain, they risk becoming social outcasts and even criminals if their sexual preferences are revealed.

Though the setting up of advocacy groups and helplines in recent years has given India's homosexuals a voice and some solace, they are still largely a hidden and persecuted community. But in a sign of changing times, India's gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the traditional hijra transsexual community came together for the first-ever Delhi Queer Pride Parade yesterday.

"We're not protesting, we're celebrating," said Leslie Esteves, a member of the newly formed Delhi Queer Pride committee. "This year for the first time we felt confident about organising a parade in the capital."

Many came in masks, but several who have partially "come out", such as a 35-year-old lesbian chef, joined the parade without any disguise. The chef's sexuality is known and accepted by her family and at work. Her "straight" family even marched in solidarity alongside her. Yet she remains cautious. "I'm not 100% out," she said, not wanting to be named. "Let's face it, India is still a very, very conservative society. Moreover, the law sees us as criminals."

India does not explicitly outlaw homosexuality but under an 1861 penal code enacted by the British colonial government, "carnal intercourse against the order of nature between any man, woman or animal" is punishable by imprisonment up to life. The law is mainly used against paedophiles, but the high-profile arrest of four gay men in 2006 in Lucknow highlighted the fact that across India corrupt police sometimes utilise the law to blackmail and even rape homosexuals.

On Wednesday, a Delhi court will begin hearings on a petition by a gay advocacy group demanding that consensual adults be exempted from the 1861 law. Prominent Indians, including novelist Vikram Seth and economist Amartya Sen, have also demanded a change in the law.

"Anybody who leads a double life doesn't feel good about it," the insurance agent said. "I feel like screaming at the top of my voice that I'm gay, but I don't have the courage. If I tell my parents, they'll force me to go for therapy or get married. And if I tell my office colleagues, I'll become a target of taunts and sexual harassment, and could even lose my job. A lesbian I know told her boss, and she was sacked. All my friends remain in the closet."

Gays and lesbians feel trapped between the law and social prejudice. For some, suicide becomes the only way out. Two married women discovered in a lesbian relationship by their families burned themselves to death last month in southern Tamil Nadu state.

"Many Indians still believe that homosexuality is deviant behaviour which can be cured," said clinical psychologist Radhika Chandiramani. "Several of my colleagues use aversion therapy to treat patients, sent by families, with electric shocks and drugs."

But yesterday's march gave many cause for hope. "I feel history is being created here," said the chef, as she marched arm in arm with her parents through the streets of Delhi.

This week gay pride marches took place in cities across the world, from San Francisco to Bilbao, including a number of firsts

Czech Republic
A gay parade in the country's second largest city, Brno, was delayed on Saturday when the marchers were attacked by a group of rightwing extremists, who were shouting abusive slogans and throwing eggs.

The march was delayed by about an hour and took an alternative, shorter route than had been planned, under police protection.

Bulgaria
Extremists throwing rocks, bottles and petrol bombs attacked Sofia's first gay pride parade on Saturday. Police say that they blocked the extremists from harming the 150 or so people in the procession through the city. About 60 people were detained for harassing the participants. Bulgaria's Orthodox church says the march should be banned as it undermines the country's Christian traditions.

Havana
Cuba's first gay pride parade was abruptly cancelled last Wednesday.

The unofficial march, organised with Florida's Unity Coalition, was not sanctioned by Cuba's National Centre for Sex Education, which is headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro.
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| Friday June 27 2008

Indian gays set for first march

New Delhi June 26: Homosexuality is officially illegal in India but the country’s lesbians and gays say that will not stop them coming out for the first nationwide pride marches this weekend. For the first time gay men, lesbians, transgendered individuals and their friends and family in several major Indian cities will join global gay pride events. “That the march is happening now and not before is an indication that people are finally feeling brave enough to come out for that kind of celebration,” said Lesley Esteves (32), a gay rights activist who is one of the organisers of the parade in New Delhi. “It is only now we feel we have the numbers to do this.”

A British colonial-era provision in Indian law prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and activists say this allows authorities to treat gay people like criminals. Under the statute, known as Section 377, unlawful sex is punishable by a fine and a 10-year prison term. Activists say that while few people are arrested or convicted under the law, many gays and lesbians prefer not to come out. “On the one hand there is criminalisation. And there is no non-discrimination legislation, no protection, no recognition of same-sex partnerships,” said rights activist Gautam Bhan (28), who plans to march in Delhi on Sunday.

“While the law exists our hands are tied. Everything you do can become suspect. There is not that much to be happy about,” Mr Bhan said. “Everyday life is still very hard. That is one of the reasons why the march ends in a vigil.” Small gay pride marches of several hundred people have been held in Kolkata before, but this year is the first time events will also be held in New Delhi and in Bangalore. Gay rights activists say this shows India has come a long way since 1999, when the first attempt at a pride march was made in Kolkata.

“Just 15 people came out. It wasn’t even a march really,” said Pawan Dhall, who works for HIV and gender rights organisation SAATHII and has been a key organiser of the march in that city. There have been other steps forward. Films have touched upon gay stories and the English-language media increasingly covers gay issues “positively,” activists say. Cracks have even appeared in the government’s stance to homosexuality during a long-running court battle to overturn Section 377.