Welcome to Indian Queer Pride!

Raj AyyarQueer Pride Day was celebrated in many Indian cities, including Delhi and Bangalore (Bengaluru), during the last week of November. 

Why didn’t Indian queer pride just trot along docilely in the big footsteps of Stonewall Day and celebrate the occasion at the end of June, or (stretching it, as the Brits do, to the 4th of July)?

In part, because it's too bloody hot in most of India to march on Stonewall Day. I think too, that this creates a symbolic cognitive and emotional distance from simply being Stonewall’s little lamb and meekly observing Queer Pride on a day that most Indians don’t relate to, in any visceral sense.

 

This is not to say that ‘Stonewall’ isn’t an international marker of LGBT pride in some sense. It’s just that many contemporary Indian queer activists refuse to fetishize it. This is a signifier if any, of the growing national and cultural self-assertion of the Indian LGBT community, and an affirmation of the need to define what it means to be queer, what the local power discourses surrounding queerness are, in a more India-specific manner.

Let’s remember, too, that the Indian queer alphabet soup is broader and aside from ‘lgbtq’ in a ‘Western’ sense, and  also incorporates uniquely Indian categories, such as hijras (India’s traditional transgender community, rooted in centuries of tradition, but now oppressed, mocked and marginalized by the hetero-normative mainstream), kothis, panthis and more. 

The Indian queer communities have much to celebrate. Last year, the Delhi High Court effectively decriminalized same-sex love in Delhi (and by analogy and precedent in other Indian state high courts) throughout India. It did this by scrapping Sec. 377 of the Indian Penal Code—an outdated colonial British sodomy law. This verdict will become the law of the land, only after the Indian Supreme Court decides the appeals filed by different religious bigots and other assorted homophobic elements. 

Luckily, the current Indian UPA government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh and steered by Sonia Gandhi, has had the decency and good sense to refrain from appealing the Delhi High Court decision. This, in refreshing contrast to the previous Indian coalition government, headed by reactionary Hindu sectarians of the BJP party, all screaming that homosexuality was not a part of their imaginary ‘Hindu tradition’. Would that they had read Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (editors/authors of ‘Same Sex Love in India’), or some of the texts of queer-friendly contemporary Hindu mythologist, Devdutt Pattnaik!  As a result of that appeal, the Delhi High Court upheld Sec. 377 in an earlier verdict years ago. 

The sight of growing numbers (in the thousands in some major Indian cities) marching on a self-defined Queer Pride Day, is evidence of an ‘out’ community, growing way beyond the MSM (‘men having sex with men’) syndrome and other such, in the quiet desperation of parks, dark alleys and the backseats of cars, with the shadow of Sec. 377 hanging over them. 

Let’s hope that this movement spreads to India’s neighbors and that we see locally appropriate and (re) appropriated queer pride marches in Lahore, Pakistan, Dhaka, Bangladesh and elsewhere in South/South-East Asia.

By Raj Ayyar

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