Gays march with pride in four Indian cities (Roundup)

June 30th, 2008 - 12:03 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Bangalore, June 29 (IANS) It was a riot of colours as hundreds of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans-genders and their supporters took to the streets carrying rainbow flags in the national capital, IT hub of Bangalore and two other cities in the country’s first “Queer Pride” parade Sunday. Some had their faces covered with multi-hued masks, while most others walked smiling at the cameras, unabashed and fearlessly. They held banners and swung to the drum beats as they walked along.

In a nation where homosexuality is illegal and is punishable with up to 10 years in jail, the overwhelmingly large attendance at the event took many by surprise.

“I wasn’t expecting such a large crowd,” said Priyanka Mehra, a gay activist taking part in the Queer Pride in Delhi.

Lesly Esteves, a journalist supporting the movement and taking part in the rally, said she was expecting about 150 people in the parade. The attendance was not less than 500.

Banners with slogans such as “Drop 377″ (referring to section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that considers homosexuality a crime), “Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s common”, “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai, Hetero-Homo Bhai Bhai” and the likes floated above the hundreds of heads on the roads of Connaught Place, the business district and shopping arcade in the heart of the capital.

A baby being carried on the father’s shoulders and carrying a placard “Gay Baby” and a Great Dane, a breed of dog famous for its huge size, wearing a rainbow flag in the collar made for a great spectacle.

Besides Delhi, what the organisers termed “Queer Pride parade” was simultaneously held in three other places in India - Bangalore, Kolkata and Puducherry.

“Puducherry confirmed it a little late. Nevertheless, with a fourth place in India joining in the movement which simultaneously took place in more than 20 other cities across the world, the magnanimity of the whole event has become bigger,” Esteves told IANS.

A large number of foreigners also took part in the pride in Delhi.

Ashley John, for instance, was an American tourist walking along with hundreds of other supporters waving the rainbow flag and singing slogans.

“Considering this is the first time that Delhi is having a gay pride, the turnout is quite impressive. I was informed about this by a friend and I am glad that I came,” John told IANS.

Nina and Annie, two tourists from Britain, also marched. “It’s such a fantastic spectacle! Such a big turnout is definitely encouraging for those fighting for their rights,” said Annie, wearing a rainbow badge.

The march which began at the Barakhamba Road, and not at the Regal cBuilding as scheduled earlier, because of security reasons, ended at Jantar Mantar, the famous observatory and tourist destination.

The marchers lighted candles and sang while waving their flags, which mark celebration of diversity.

A large posse of police personnel, however, were never far from the marchers, keeping an eye on the goings-on.

In Bangalore, about 600-700 people walked on. The two-hour rally, flagged off from a city college grounds in upscale Basavangudi suburb, once populated by conservative Brahmins, culminated at the Town Hall for a public meeting to the beats of drums, blaring music and a native dance by about 100 activists.

About 200 policemen and women tailed the colourful rally along the four-km route to regulate the frenzied activists, including many sporting fancy dresses, masks to hide their faces from glaring eyes and carrying rainbow umbrellas.

Vehicular traffic came to a halt at cross-roads en-route to let the rally pass through and allow crowds on both sides a closer look at the activists, which included a sprinkle of Americans, Europeans and Australians.

“This is the first time a ‘pride rally’ is held in this cosmopolitan city as part of the worldwide movement to observe the Stonewall Riots Day and express solidarity to our fellow sexual minorities,” gay activist Siddharth Narrain of Good As You (GAY) organisation told IANS.

Carrying flags, banners and placards, the participants appealed to the people to support their cause and join them to seek equal rights from the government.

“We will not rest till we get rid of Section 377 of IPC, which is a colonial legacy. The draconian law criminalises sex between adults by terming all sexual acts other than penile-vaginal intercourse as against the order of nature,” Narrain told the gathering, even as rain-bearing dark clouds loomed over the horizon at dusk.

Founder of trans-genders organisation Sangama Elavarthi Manohar said the activists had recently filed a case in the Delhi High Court against the central government, demanding repeal of Section 377 of the IPC.

“Though the home ministry opposed our demand, the health ministry is supportive for repealing the discriminating Section 377. We will go to the Supreme Court if we don’t get justice in the lower court,” Manohar asserted.

The Alternative Law Forum wanted the government to accord choice of gender/sex to people who have undergone sex reassignment surgery and prevent police atrocities against sexual minorities.

Stonewall Riots Day is observed across the world in support of sexual minorities and to express solidarity with the victims of brutal police raid on Stonewall Inn, a bar in Greenwich Village of New York way back June 29, 1969. The gays rioted after the raid in protest against constant harassment by the police.

“The Stonewall riots are considered to be the genesis of the sexual minorities’ movement worldwide. Sexual minorities and their allies organise pride events in several cities on the same day (June 29) to celebrate diverse sexuality and gender identities,” Narrain recalled.

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