The rights of others

Navya Gupta
Monday, 25 June 2018

LGBTQIA+ members in India have a long way to go as far as their rights and freedoms are concerned. However, a few NGOs are working relentlessly to discuss their issues and battling for their rights. We talk to a few of them

We demanded the British to quit our nation and vowed to fight for a free and equal India. However, equality is still a dream, especially for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. And, it will remain so till Section 377 is in force. 

Discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people continues, which is why many of them lead an invisible life. Their stories are not heard of or told, and even those who dare to come out of the closet often feel isolated and have low self-esteem. However, they find support in programmes and organisations like Shades of the Sea and The Humsafar Trust. With the Pride month on, we talk to the founders to know the level of awareness and the kind of progress the community has made.        

As a programme, Shades of the Sea aims to create a platform for discussing the concerns of  LGBTQIA+ individuals, understanding them as humans and supporting them to come out with their talents and skills. The members get the opportunity to interact with each other and experience different journeys.  

Surendra Harsh, founder, Shades of the Sea, says, “The queer community is bigger than one person or one group, and sometimes it’s hard to remember that. It’s a world of people who are often rejected and attacked for being who they are, expressing themselves in ways that feel right, and loving who they can’t help but love. Pride events, especially Pride parades, are about visibility and creating a sense of belonging for people who may not have it. It’s about giving hope to people who may feel that life will never get better.”

Pride can mean so many things all at once, making it nearly impossible to describe or sum up. “It goes without saying that Pride is often most important for the newest members of the community, for whom being different from mainstream society is still a new thing. Without Pride, these emerging queers may become trapped within the mental and emotional stages wherein they believe they will be completely alone if they ‘come out’. Almost all of us have been there. The fear is real. The shame is real. And no matter how much our closest confidants try (if you are lucky enough to have some) we still can’t believe things will get better because the world shows us, all too often, just how terrible queer life can be,” says Harsh. 

While the fight still goes on for the LGBTQIA+ community, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t take the time to celebrate and honour the rights that they have because of queer warriors and allies. “In many ways, Pride is a powerful way to show that we won, that we beat those who wanted to make India a place where queerness was hidden and shameful, and a place where being queer was thought of as a mental illness,” says Harsh. 

And for the very same reason Pride marches are organised in many cities in India, including Pune. Shades of the Sea participated in the 8th edition of Pune Pride Walk this year, which was held on June 3.  

“Shades of the Sea actively participated in the Pride march and interviewed young queer individuals about how they felt after attending the parade and it was a very happy feeling to know that they found their city’s pride parade to be the ‘Most Amazing Pride Ever’!” says Harsh.

One of the core team members of Shades of the Sea, Rohit K, who attended the Pride march in the city for the second time, says, “Pride marches are just not a platform for celebrating who we are, but a gathering to show solidarity and send across a social and political message that we are humans first and we are demanding human rights, the same rights that are given to any other citizen of India which the Section 377 contradicts and prevents queer individuals from loving each other. No law should be such that it creates inequality and spreads disharmony in society. We are not hurting anyone, we just want to love who we wish to love and that too consensually.” 

On the day of the parade, Rohit says that Pune had suddenly turned colourful and the roads were filled with smiles and happy faces of not just participants from the queer community but also straight allies. 

While most people welcomed the parade with a smile, there were some who did not have any idea about the issue that is being debated and discussed globally and why would there be a need to host such a fun yet bizarre march. 

The Humsafar Trust (HST), founded by Ashok Row Kavi, is one of India’s leading organisations that supports a spectrum of sexual minorities. HST has a familial vibe and has been a home for people belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community. There are 4 verticals at HST: Health, Advocacy, Capacity Building and Research. 

We chat up Koninika Roy, advocacy manager of HST, to know more about the awareness and acceptance of the  LGBTQIA+ community, and how Pride marches are giving visibility to the group. 

Why do you think Pride marches are important and how does it empower the  LGBTQIA+ community? 
Pride marches are important as they are a medium of expression for the people belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community. These marches are a space for people to be themselves and embrace their identity and advocate for their rights and a show of strength as well.

How have Pride marches in India changed over time?
They have changed on a large scale. The first Pride marches started off with small numbers but today, we have up to 15,000 people walking the Mumbai Pride March. Marches in other major metropolitan cities too have a good show of strength. The Pride marches in smaller towns and cities have their own unique local flavour. Though Pride marches as such have been a Western concept, Indian cities and towns, along with Indian LGBTQIA+ communities, have fought hard to make them an Indian concept too. For instance, in Lucknow the march is called Awadh Garv Yatra. In Mumbai, it is called Queer Azaadi March and so on. Every city has localised messages during the marches, which today have also become more inclusive. They consider people with disabilities and also other intersectionalities, for instance, Dalit Queer people or Muslim Queer people. This makes Pride marches more diverse and representative. 

How do people not belonging to the LGBTQIA+ react to the marches? Has their outlook  changed over the years?
Allies have always been a huge part of Pride marches. Policemen often walk the marches with the  LGBTQIA+ community as part of their duty towards our safety. They ensure that we are not stopped or harmed in any way. This year, parents of people belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community walked the Mumbai Pride March to show their support. There were doctors, student groups as well as many corporate supporters. All in all, support from allies has increased significantly in the last couple of years.

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