Aug 12, 2009

The Queer Azaadi march


Update: For more details on the march, please visit the Official Queer Azaadi blog.

Dear friends,

A few weeks back, when the Delhi High-Court read down Section 377 of IPC, I felt liberated. I was ecstatic - most of my friends would remember. I'm touched by the wonderful support that I received from my friends and their friends (unfortunately, not too much from my family). Since then, however, a few staunch right-wing religious fanatics have filed cases against the ruling at the Supreme Court, and the court will now decide with the government about implementing the High Court ruling.

Yes, that’s right - the government, ministries, and the Supreme Court will now decide the fate of millions of gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities in India. Currently everyone at the Centre is playing it safe, and despite realizing and confessing unofficially that criminalization of homosexuality is primitive and unethical, taking an equivocal stance. We have a long road to go ahead, a tough battle to fight, and quite honestly, we need support.

This weekend, on the 16th of August (Sunday), Mumbai will have its 2nd annual pride march titled "Queer Azaadi March." The march will start at around 3 pm on Sunday at the August Kranti maidan, go towards Girgaum Chowpatty, and finally come back to the maidan itself. You can expect the colorful participation of the minorities, a universal phenomenon at all pride marches.

How can you help me/us? By marching with us, of course! It might sound redundant, but I’ll have to state this – You do not have to be queer to march. Throughout history, straight (heterosexual) people have always shown their solidarity toward sexual minorities by choosing march by our side. You can give us tremendous support us by marching with us, as would my straight friends and band mates. 

Why is this important? If the turn-out is huge, the march will be a huge success and that will be a strong message to the important people at Delhi. It will definitely help tilt the stakes in our favor for permanent decriminalization of homosexuality.
So, I request you to please come and march with me! I'd be most grateful for the support. I will add the details of the march below. Also attached is a Time-Out Mumbai article, which had photo of me, about the pride march written by my friend Vikram Doctor (TOI/ET).

Queer Azaadi March ‘09
  • Day Date & Time: Sunday 16 August 2009, from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm
  • Pre-March Assembly Point: August Kranti Maidan (Gowalia Tank) at 2:30 pm (Nearest Railway Station - Grant Road)
  • Route: August Kranti Maidan => Nana Chowk => Opera House => Girgaum Chowpatty and Back.
The march will take place from 3 to 6 pm. Like last year we will start from August Kranti Maidan at Gowalia Tank, from where Gandhi gave his call for the British to Quit India, and we will march through Nana Chowk to Opera House and to Girgaum Chowpatty - but where last year's march ended there, many organisers felt this was too short for all the enthusiasm, so it will probably be extended to march back to August Kranti Maidan.

Thanks to the success of last year's march, and the enthusiasm created by the Delhi High Court verdict, a lot of people are coming for the march from other parts of India and even abroad. Celebrities like Celina Jaitley and Milind Soman will probably be there. It’s going to be a blast! 

But while we hope everyone has fun, there is also a serious reason for marching. We have won a big victory in the Delhi High Court, but it is being fiercely challenged in the Supreme Court. We need to call with all our effort on the honourable judges of the Supreme Court and the government to respect the verdict of the Delhi High Court and to let freedom stand for the queer community across India. Last year's March was to call for azaadi; this year's march is for it to stay.

You could help just by persuading friends and relatives to come - we are VERY keen on extending this march beyond just the queer community to show that this is a human rights issue for all. Or by offering to host some of the many people who will be coming for the march.

Despite the Delhi High Court victory we do realize that many people will still be wary of marching openly. We respect these concerns and have accommodated them, like last year, by making lovely, colorful masks available for free at the venue (just come a bit early to make sure you get one). Apart from this there's the fact that, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, we have deliberately broad based the march to make one not just for queer people, but for anyone interested in basic human rights issues. 

A lot of mainstream supporters will be coming, so if it is a concern, please be assured that being seen at the march will not necessarily label you as queer - but it might label you as someone who believes in human rights for all!

See you at the march!

From TimeOut Mumbai: Why We Want To March
Vikram Doctor, Mumbai

When the Delhi High Court delivered its wonderfully liberating verdict on Section 377 the most obvious and immediate opposition came from religious homophobes. Their dogmatic diatribes must and are being countered, but there’s probably little chance of any real dialogue with such blinkered people. But I’m hoping that’s not the case with other strains of opposition or discomfort. Like the one articulated by antediluvian Congress politician, Vayalar Ravi. “As far as I am concerned this is an issue of the elite with which we do not agree,” he said, using the standard tactic of political elites to dismiss progressive issues that don’t fit their agenda. 
 
A more nuanced argument came from those who welcomed the verdict, but warned that too bold a coming out for the community could invite retaliation and also confirm the homophobes’ charge that this was a flamboyant Western imposition on Indian values. “Will the nasty jibes stop now that gays are ‘legal’? I’d say ‘Hold those exuberant celebrations’. The time to pop the bubbly is still a distant dream,” warned Shobhaa De in The Week, while Santosh Desai in The Times of India noted that blatant displays of difference could backfire: “Imitative acts of protest, like some of those seen at the gay pride parade make it easier for those already anxious to label the movement as being frivolous, derivative and elitist.” 
 
They may have a point. When you’re trying to convince people gays and lesbians aren’t frighteningly different, it is perhaps not the smartest thing to do to march in public decked in rainbow colours and having a blast. “Milord, these people, they want to have fun,” spluttered one of our opponents’ lawyer during the Delhi High Court hearing, and it certainly true that a Gay Pride march, along with its many serious messages, is also an occasion for much fun. So why, at the time of writing this, are queer groups planning to organise another Queer Azaadi March just like the one we had last year? 
 
Because, in a way, it’s the real answer to Mr.Ravi’s dismissive remark. With a few honourable exceptions, the elite gay and lesbian crowd and their friends were never really involved in the campaign against S.377 because their position meant it never mattered for them. Ms.De, always the social observer, described this world in The Asian Age: “educated, urbane, well-travelled cool guys as comfortable in Miami as they were in Mumbai. This new breed was predominantly gay… but determined to stay in the closet.” She went on describe a power gay mafia in the entertainment and fashion world who employed gay stylists, designers, music directors, cameramen… who all created images of muscular, sexualised males and skinny, desexualised females for their private appreciation, which the unknowing public lapped up and internalised. 
 
I have to say I find this a bit glib. Of course, I know gay people in Bollywood, though hardly in the numbers Ms.De seems to know. (I also know plenty of straight people who create the images she describes, and plenty more who appreciate them quite simply because both men and women like looking that way). But what I don’t get is a direct connection between them and the fight against S.377. Yes, their use of gay themes raised the issue in India, but very few have been publicly involved in the fight, apart from Wendell Rodricks. In general the elite gay crowd has never been much interested in gay rights, because they had faced no problems, and perhaps even feared some with a more open gay culture. 
 
So who wanted the law to change? The ordinary people who faced real problems. The gay college students who was bullied and called names and saw his name and number written in the toilets. Their mothers, who support their resistance to the bullying. There’s the butch lesbian woman who got dirty looks, and sometimes even direct confrontation, when she got into the Ladies compartment in the local train. Or the hijras who face the same problem, and even worse treatment from the railway police, getting beaten up and even sexually abused, which they don’t dare report, because the law makes them criminals. 
 
Then there are the workers at organisations like Humsafar who have government funding to distribute condoms and spread awareness about AIDS among men who have sex with men – but who are still abused and harassed by policemen as they go for their work in the evenings. Or there are the two women who fell in love in a small town in Punjab, but when their relationship was discovered they had to run for their lives, and now struggle to survive in the big city. Or there’s the gay couple who have been together 30 years, but are afraid that when one of them dies his family will throw the other out of the property to which they have no joint right. When they tried to buy a flat, their loan application was brusquely rejected because their relationship was illegal. 
 
I could put names on every one of these ordinary Mumbai stories and, and still have more such stories of people whose struggles to cope are made all the harder by the knowledge that the law considers them criminals. None of them would consider themselves part of Mr.Ravi’s elite, yet these are the ones who have organised to fight S.377, who have contributed from their small earnings for the costs of the case, who have dealt with their fears of exposure to give testimonies that can be quoted in court – and who came out to march last year. And this year it is these people who want to march again, not to shock and titillate the public, though they know that’s how most of the media will treat it. It is these ordinary people who want to march to prove to themselves that they can – and to prove to this city that their stories are this city’s stories too. 
 
As it happens, I think the last time I met Ms.De was a couple of years back at an event that was almost literally a dress rehearsal for these marches. This was a fashion show organised by the queer community at Damodar Hall in the Marathi millworker’s heartland of Parel East. Whatever attitudes Ms.De might take in her writing she is always gracious and a good sport in person and she readily agreed to be the judge. With not a single elite gay designer or director in sight, but a crowd comprising of half queer people and their families, and half Damodar Hall’s regular (slightly surprised but appreciative) audience, the show presented glamorously bedecked drag queens and stylish lesbian drag kings, tight T-shirted muscular gay men and one bi woman friend of mine who had gone for a high heels, corset and whip look. 
 
Ms.De sat appreciately through it all, and even gave a speech in Marathi at the end. She didn’t tell the participants to hold their enthusiasm then, so I hope she’ll understand when those same people come out to march. Not in any expectation of immediate or easy change, but with the knowledge that our first steps must be taken, with sequins and style, in the streets of Mumbai.

(Courtesy: QAM, Time-Out Mumbai)

3 comments:

ruSh.Me said...

I guess creating a public event on Facebook would also help spread information..!!!

Nitin Karani said...

Please see www.queerazaadi.wordpress.com, the official QAM blog, for more details.

Kris Bass said...

ruSh.Me: It's already there!

Nitin: I have NOW put a link on top to the Queer Azaadi blog! :)