The LGBT community in India held the 8th annual edition of the Queer Pride Parade in the capital New Delhi last week.
As Bismillah Geelani reports, thousands turned up to raise their voices against discrimination and demand their right to live and love freely.
More than 3 thousand people danced, sang and cheered on the streets in central Delhi to mark the 8th Delhi Queer Pride Parade.
New Delhi came alive with color and throbbing drum beats as members from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT community and their supporters marched for their rights – carrying rainbow flags, balloons and placards.
Many wore colorful masks and wigs, while others had a heart painted on their face.
Fifty-five-year-old Vimal Bhai was among the participants.
“Our struggle has come a long way; the LGBT community has become aware of its rights and is now asserting them. Our struggle is not just about sex rights, it’s also about basic rights and democratic values,” explains Bhai, “What we want is equality, equal rights and equal opportunities without any discrimination.”
The central demand of the LGBT community is for the government to revoke section 377 of the Indian Penal code, which criminalizes homosexuality.
It’s a colonial-era law that considers homosexuality a serious offence, punishable with a minimum imprisonment up to 10 years.
Senior Supreme Court advocate Anand Grover explains.
“It reads as follows: whoever has carnal intercourse voluntarily with a man, woman or animal, against the order of nature, is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years or life,” says Grover, “The British, when they enacted the law in the 1870s, had a particular notion about sexuality and they did not condone any non-heterosexual sex.”
In 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down the law arguing that it violates the rights of equality, privacy and dignity guaranteed under the constitution.
But last year the Supreme Court set aside the high court ruling, upholding the law that criminalizes homosexuality.
The court however said that it was up to the Parliament to decide whether the law should remain in the statute book or be removed. But instead of addressing the issue the government has now filed a “curative petition” where it has asked the court to reconsider its ruling…
The government, says transgender activist Lakshmi Tripathi, is dilly-dallying on the issue.
“The political parties should stop playing games, they are playing with the lives of millions of people,” he says, “We are all adults and if adults in this country have the right to cast a vote, why are we being denied the right to live our sexuality?”
The parliament should have the guts to stand for freedom of expression, says Tripathi.
While some individuals in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, have advocated repealing the law the party as a whole has traditionally been strongly opposed to the idea.
Most BJP leaders consider the LGBT community sick, including senior party member Subramaniam Swami.
“Our party position has been stated several times that we think homosexuality and lesbianism is a genetic disorder,” says Swami, “And people should not be discriminated against in jobs and should not be socially ostracized but we cannot celebrate it, nor can we publicize it, nor can we advocate it.”
Many like gay activist Akhil Katiyal don’t expect any breakthroughs under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At the pride march Katiyal carried a placard that read: “Homos hate BJP”.
“This is a homophobic party, their home minister says homosexuality is unnatural and they have always supported laws like the 377,” he says, “It’s futile to hope anything good from such a government.”
But it’s not just about the BJP. Almost all religious groups oppose the LGBT communities’ demand to overturn the law.
It’s an issue where Hindu, Muslim and Christian groups speak in one voice.
Omkaranand Saraswati is a Hindu religious leader.
“This goes against the tenets of all the religions that’s why all of us are united against it,” says the religious leader, “Homosexuality is a serious threat to the family systems, to the belief systems and to the civilization as a whole.”
But Katiyal says times are changing, and so are the mindsets. He’s confident that sooner or later they will get their dues.
“When we had our first queer pride rally, we were only 800 people, today we are in thousands, so things are changing. Social acceptance will grow and more people who are still in the closet will come out,” he says, “We are skeptical about Parliament doing anything, but we hope the courts will come to our rescue and make the journey easier for us.”