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Pink Pride July 8, 2007

Posted by qmediawatch in English, Indian Express.
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http://www.indianexpress.com/sunday/story/203999._.html

As small pockets of urban India shed straitjackets and stray from straight, narrow paths, a growing community…

Queer things can happen over coffee. Lovers smoulder, friends fall out and every Sunday morning, at a coffee shop in south Delhi, a group of 10-15 men get together–to steer clear of straight talk. They are a motley bunch: young, bleary-eyed call centre workers and shy undergraduate students, middle-aged bankers and photographers, corporate executives and NGO members. They are also gay. The banter, over cups of bitter brew and stacks of crusty sandwiches, is lively as they talk about Tendulkar’s return to form, the knotty politics of a corporate office, the lack of a love life, the pressure to get hitched and the
sullen walls of silence they run into in homes. This is the Gay Delhi Sunday Social, a gathering of a handful of urban, middle-class and upper middle-class homosexual and bisexual men of the capital that every week stakes a claim–to visibility, to a social space.
“When we decided to start the Socials about a year ago, it was a conscious decision to be visible, to hold our gatherings in the day in a coffee shop. It was our way of pushing for a bit of public space,” says 41-year-old Ranjan, who works for an NGO. Last Sunday, as Ranjan and his friends sipped on dark cappuccinos and creamy lattes, in Kolkata–the city has been organising a annual Gay Pride March since 2003 to mark the homophobic Stonewall Riots in New York of 1969 –a file of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, was curling itself around the lush-green Maidan. They were on their way to the Rabindra Sadan-Nandan complex, the hub of the state government’s intellectual
and cultural activities in an annual ritual of affirmation. Some wore masks; others looked onlookers straight in the eye. In an earlier edition of the walk, a soccer match was disrupted when players stopped to ogle and yell out a gibes. Last Sunday, the play stopped, but momentarily. Families on a weekend outing stopped digging into their lunch packs to look up, before resuming again. Two bikers, who were harassing some of the participants, were chased away by accompanying cops, with whom the marchers exchanged jokes. Says Pawan Dhall, country director of Saathii, an NGO which works in the area of HIV-AIDS and LGBT issues, “Possibly, people, including the footballers, by now know who we are and why we march.” In defiance of a law (section 377 of the Indian Penal Code) that shoves same-sex love into shadows of illegitimacy and crime, a small section of people of alternative sexuality–mostly urban, English-speaking and privileged–is standing up to tell the world who they are and pushing the margins of the spaces available to them. Browse through TimeOut Delhi, a fortnightly lifestyle magazine launched three months ago, and you findbetween movie listings and the kids’ section another assertion–a page blazoned with the masthead: Gay & Lesbian. Apart from a regular column, it also has a listings section that features events ranging from the screening of a film on alternative sexuality to gatherings like the Sunday Socials. If that is
a threshold crossed, the Nigah QueerFest, held in Delhi from May 25 to June 3, was another landmark. Hundreds of gay men and women from across the country celebrated their sexuality in full media glare as they watched feature, documentary and short films covering gay, lesbian and bi-sexual to transgender and hijra experiences in India. “It was an affirmation of their lives and choices that people were desperate to see,” says 53-year-old photographer Sunil Gupta, whose film India Postcard on gay life in India in the 1980s showed at the fest.If niche films are mirroring silenced loves, straight and narrow Bollywood plotlines are bending to allow the gay experience into multiplexes. Much of it is still crassly homophobic (Page 3 and Life in a Metro). But a film like Honeymoon Travels Pvt Limited allows a gay sub-plot to blow up on a multiple narrative on heterosexual marriages. The ensuing confusion of sexual identity is addressed with humour and sensitivity. 
In an earlier edition of the walk, a soccer match was disrupted when players stopped to ogle and yell out a gibes. Last Sunday, the play stopped, but momentarily. Families on a weekend outing stopped digging into their lunch packs to look up, before resuming again. Two bikers, who were harassing some of the participants, were chased away by accompanying cops, with whom the marchers exchanged jokes. Says Pawan Dhall, country director of Saathii, an NGO which works in the area of HIV-AIDS and LGBT issues, “Possibly, people, including the footballers, by now know who we are and why we march.”
In defiance of a law (section 377 of the Indian Penal Code) that shoves same-sex love into shadows of illegitimacy and crime, a small section of people of alternative sexuality–mostly urban,English-speaking and privileged–is standing up to tell the world who they are and pushing the margins of the spaces available to them. Browse through TimeOut Delhi, a fortnightly lifestyle magazine launched three months ago, and you find between movie listings and the kids’ section another assertion–a page blazoned with the masthead: Gay & Lesbian. Apart from a regular column, it also has a listings section that features events ranging from the screening of a film on alternative sexuality to gatherings like the Sunday Socials. If that is a threshold crossed, the Nigah QueerFest, held in Delhi from May 25 to June 3, was another landmark. Hundreds of gay men and women from across the country celebrated their sexuality in full media glare as they watched feature,
documentary and short films covering gay, lesbian and bi-sexual to transgender and hijra experiences in India. “It was an affirmation of their lives and choices that people were desperate to see,” says 53-year-old photographer Sunil Gupta, whose film India Postcard on gay life in India in the 1980s showed at the fest. If niche films are mirroring silenced loves, straight and narrow  Bollywood plotlines are bending to allow the gay experience into multiplexes.
Much of it is still crassly homophobic (Page 3 and Life in a Metro). But a film like Honeymoon Travels Pvt Limited allows a gay sub-plot to blow up on a
multiple narrative on heterosexual marriages. The ensuing confusion of sexual
identity is addressed with humour and sensitivity. TimeOut columnist, who
writes under the suggestive name of Dehleez Paar, sees the greater visibility of
gay and lesbian people as part of larger changes sweeping the Indian mindscape.
“More and more youngsters in urban India are resisting social pressures,
marrying late. There’s greater questioning and loosening of accepted social
norms, which is also the case in matters of sexuality.” And as young Indians learn to break shibboleths, queer men and women are walking out of stifling, middle-class closets to find comfort in friends–straight or gay. Nineteen-year-old Amol (name changed), a student in a Delhi college, for instance, finds his greatest support from his pool of
straight friends, mostly women. The Sunday gatherings helped Ajay (name changed), 21, a student of architecture, meet many more men like him, face up to his sexuality and come out to his father. “Two months after I attended my first social, I realised I wasn’t alone.” Ranjan recalls how relieved a 19-year-old was when he met other men like him at the gathering. “He said he realised he wasn’t all that bad. The next day, he went up to his father and blurted out the truth.” A friend of mine was unsettled when I came out to her. But she was my biggest support when my last relationship ended,” says 22-year-old PR executive Shaheen. And as straitjackets snap and a society morphs, in the cocoons of friendship, you see  the possibility of fun–and the freedom to be gay. “Most of my straight men friends know about me and are ok with my sexuality. In fact, sometimes, we check out women together,” she says with a laugh, bright eyes spilling with mirth.
Gupta sees promise for the gay community in the growing BPO-driven affluence of youngsters in urban India. “Homosexuality worldwide has been an  urban phenomenon. In India, the economic change has had a knock-on effect. More and more young people live alone. A lot of them earn quite well. They make up a consumer class that is used to getting what it wants–and they will set the bar. In the middle of this change, there is the possibility of a gay lifestyle.”
TimeOut columnist, who writes under the suggestive name of Dehleez Paar, sees the greater visibility of gay and lesbian people as part of larger changes sweeping the Indian
mindscape. “More and more youngsters in urban India are resisting social pressures, marrying late. There’s greater questioning and loosening of accepted social norms, which is also the case in matters of sexuality.” And as young Indians learn to break shibboleths, queer men and women are walking out of stifling, middle-class closets to find comfort in friends–straight or gay. Nineteen-year-old Amol (name changed), a student in a Delhi college, for
instance, finds his greatest support from his pool of straight friends, mostly
women. The Sunday gatherings helped Ajay (name changed), 21, a student of
architecture, meet many more men like him, face up to his sexuality and come out
to his father. “Two months after I attended my first social, I realised I wasn’t
alone.” Ranjan recalls how relieved a 19-year-old was when he met other men like
him at the gathering. “He said he realised he wasn’t all that bad. The next day,
he went up to his father and blurted out the truth.”
“A friend of mine was unsettled when I came out to her. But she was my biggest
support when my last relationship ended,” says 22-year-old PR executive Shaheen.
And as straitjackets snap and a society morphs, in the cocoons of friendship,
you see the possibility of fun–and the freedom to be gay. “Most of my straight
men friends know about me and are ok with my sexuality. In fact, sometimes, we
check out women together,” she says with a laugh, bright eyes spilling with
mirth. Gupta sees promise for the gay community in the growing BPO-driven
affluence of youngsters in urban India. “Homosexuality worldwide has been an
urban phenomenon. In India, the economic change has had a knock-on effect. More
and more young people live alone. A lot of them earn quite well. They make up a
consumer class that is used to getting what it wants–and they will set the bar.
In the middle of this change, there is the possibility of a gay lifestyle.”
Sure enough, in Mumbai, Shasi and Avanti
(names changed), both call centre workers, have just moved in together. “When I
started earning, my parents asked me fewer questions,” says the 24-year-old.
Avanti, who just turned 25, says, “When we decided we were serious about each
other and wanted to live together, I realised it was time to move out of home,”
says Avanti. In Faridabad, 28-year-old Agni (name changed) awaits anxiously for
word from his parents. A month has passed since he came out to his parents
through an open letter in a magazine. “Since then, they have stopped talking. I
guess they need time,” he says wistfully. Two-and-a-half-years ago, he left his
home in Chandigarh when the pressure to marry got overpowering. The anonymity of
a big city life–he often travels to Delhi for his work–financial independence
and the distance from home has given him the space to be himself.  
\n\u003cp\>When Dhall “came out” in the mid-1990s, he was confronted with
reactions like “You don’t look like a homosexual”.
These days, he finds himself surrounded by people who are ‘out’ and
willing to be counted. “Especially in urban centres like Kolkata, there are many
more people who, even in public domains, don’t mind divulging their sexual
orientation,” says Dhall, who has over the years been closely associated with
the organisation of Rainbow Pride Week events in Kolkata. “A generation of gay
and lesbian people left India to live a freer life in the ’80s and ’90s.
Now I am happy to see so many young men and women openly declaring their
sexuality and right to love openly,” says Suniti Namjoshi, a Canada-based
feminist author poet. \n\u003cp\>For lesbian and bisexual women, however, the
space for courage or fun is painfully sparse. While nightclubs in Delhi,
Bangalore and Mumbai host gay nites on a regular basis, for women there are few
places to get together. “We are silenced, not closeted,” says Maya, a member of
Sangini, a Delhi-based support group for lesbian and
bisexual women. “Public spaces are inaccessible for women. We don’t even
put up stickers advertising our helpline number at any public place, be it a
coffee shop or cinema, because we know a woman will not stand up in a public
place and scribble that number down. There is always the fear that too many
people are watching.” \n”,1] ); //–> Sure enough, in Mumbai, Shasi and
Avanti (names changed), both call centre workers, have just moved in together.
“When I started earning, my parents asked me fewer questions,” says the
24-year-old. Avanti, who just turned 25, says, “When we decided we were serious
about each other and wanted to live together, I realised it was time to move out
of home,” says Avanti. In Faridabad, 28-year-old Agni (name changed) awaits
anxiously for word from his parents. A month has passed since he came out to his
parents through an open letter in a magazine. “Since then, they have stopped
talking. I guess they need time,” he says wistfully.
Two-and-a-half-years ago, he left his home in Chandigarh when the pressure to
marry got overpowering. The anonymity of a big city life–he often travels to
Delhi for his work–financial independence and the distance from home has given
him the space to be himself. When Dhall “came out” in the mid-1990s, he was
confronted with reactions like “You don’t look like a homosexual”. These days,
he finds himself surrounded by people who are ‘out’ and willing to be counted.
“Especially in urban centres like Kolkata, there are many more people who, even
in public domains, don’t mind divulging their sexual orientation,” says Dhall,
who has over the years been closely associated with the organisation of Rainbow
Pride Week events in Kolkata. “A generation of gay and lesbian people left India
to live a freer life in the ’80s and ’90s. Now I am happy to see so many young
men and women openly declaring their sexuality and right to love openly,” says
Suniti Namjoshi, a Canada-based
feminist author poet. For lesbian and bisexual women, however, the space for
courage or fun is painfully sparse. While nightclubs in Delhi, Bangalore and
Mumbai host gay nites on a regular basis, for women there are few places to get
together. “We are silenced, not closeted,” says Maya, a member of Sangini, a
Delhi-based support group for lesbian and bisexual women. “Public spaces are
inaccessible for women. We don’t even put up stickers advertising our helpline
number at any public place, be it a coffee shop or cinema, because we know a
woman will not stand up in a public place and scribble that number down. There
is always the fear that too many people are watching.” Another Mumbai couple,
Garima and Baneen, were handed an eviction notice after their landlord saw them
on television at a gay rally during the World Social Forum. Sapna is appalled
that the lesbian movement in India has no public face. “I was really upset when
a television series on homosexuality had only
gay men facing the camera. It’s high time we claimed our space,” she says.
\n\u003cp\>Groups like LABIA, once known as Stree Sangam, a queer-women’s
collective that deals with gay and feminist politics and has been around for
almost 10 years now, are doing that. Last month they launched a new film club,
Cine LABIA, and kicked off their first women-only screening Majlis in Kalina. “I
have been doing screenings all over Europe and when I began working here, I
realised that it would be a new context for women to meet,” says Sophie Parisse,
a Belgian film curator who is spearheading Cine LABIA. Gay Bombay also holds
regular monthly screening of gay films in the auditorium of a Bandra college.
“As long as we keep it low-key and send our invites out by SMS, email and word
of mouth, we can be sure that the screenings won’t be hampered,” says
Vikram, founder member of Gay Bombay.   \n\u003cp\>Not all agree that the
changes have been more than cosmetic–even for men.
Sunil, a 34-year-old journalist, says it’s a myth that professions like
journalism are tolerant of homosexuality. “I’ve seen senior journalists
react with fear, paranoia and homophobia to the idea. It’s only a limited
section of very affluent people who can afford to be open.” \n\u003cp\>In small
towns, the silence is indeed deafening. Arunabha Nath is gay and a member of
Sangram, an NGO which works for human rights of sexual minorities, in
Berhampore, a town located approximately 200 km north of Kolkata. Here there is
a glaring need for an organisation like Sangram. “There are many people who fall
under the sexual minorities bracket. We have received queries from many wanting
to come out into the open but can’t. Many are caught in heterosexual
marriages, some simply don’t have the courage,” he says. “We need Sangram if
for nothing else but to share our stories and emotions”. \n”,1] ); //–>
Another Mumbai couple, Garima and Baneen, were handed an
eviction notice after their landlord saw them on television at a gay rally
during the World Social Forum. Sapna is appalled that the lesbian movement in
India has no public face. “I was really upset when a television series on
homosexuality had only gay men facing the camera. It’s high time we claimed our
space,” she says. Groups like LABIA, once known as Stree Sangam, a
queer-women’s collective that deals with gay and feminist politics and has been
around for almost 10 years now, are doing that. Last month they launched a new
film club, Cine LABIA, and kicked off their first women-only screening Majlis in
Kalina. “I have been doing screenings all over Europe and when I began working
here, I realised that it would be a new context for women to meet,” says Sophie
Parisse, a Belgian film curator who is spearheading Cine LABIA. Gay Bombay also
holds regular monthly screening of gay films in the auditorium of a Bandra
college. “As long as we keep it low-key and send our
invites out by SMS, email and word of mouth, we can be sure that the screenings
won’t be hampered,” says Vikram, founder member of Gay Bombay. Not all agree
that the changes have been more than cosmetic–even for men. Sunil, a
34-year-old journalist, says it’s a myth that professions like journalism are
tolerant of homosexuality. “I’ve seen senior journalists react with fear,
paranoia and homophobia to the idea. It’s only a limited section of very
affluent people who can afford to be open.” In small towns, the silence is
indeed deafening. Arunabha Nath is gay and a member of Sangram, an NGO which
works for human rights of sexual minorities, in Berhampore, a town located
approximately 200 km north of Kolkata. Here there is a glaring need for an
organisation like Sangram. “There are many people who fall under the sexual
minorities bracket. We have received queries from many wanting to come out into
the open but can’t. Many are caught in heterosexual marriages, some
simply don’t have the courage,” he says. “We need Sangram if for nothing else
but to share our stories and emotions”. The growing visibility in Kolkata has
come at a price. Over the last three months, at least six cases of crime against
members of the community have been reported. The victims have been mugged,
mobbed, tortured by the custodians of law, and in the case of cross-dresser
Ronald D’Silva, brutally murdered. The incidents have taken place in places
like the Maidan, Southern Avenue and Sealdah — all very much within
Kolkata’s municipal limits. \n\u003cp\>So how does one negotiate these
spaces? “Talk. We should talk about it,” says Shaheen’s partner Rati. “We
don’t need to shout about our sexuality but we should let people close to us
know, dispel their fears.” \n\u003cp\>Or as Tirthankar Guha Thakurta did, walk,
one end of a banner reading ‘Same Sex, Same Rights’ clutched in his
hand.  Tirthankar, a former student of the prestigious
Calcutta National Medical College, is now an activist filmmaker of gender and
gay rights. Though he came out a few years ago, this was the first time he took
part in Pride Walk. “Last year my mother didn’t allow me to go for the
march,” he says. He is happy that he decided to come for the walk. “Maybe my
photograph will appear in the newspapers, but that will only show that I’m
at peace with myself.”
The growing visibility in Kolkata has come at a price. Over the last three months, at least six cases of crime against members of the community have been reported. The victims have been mugged, mobbed, tortured by the custodians of law, and in the case of cross-dresser Ronald D’Silva, brutally murdered. The incidents have taken place in places like the Maidan, Southern Avenue and Sealdah — all very much within Kolkata’s municipal
limits. So how does one negotiate these spaces? “Talk. We should talk about
it,” says Shaheen’s partner Rati. “We don’t need to shout about our sexuality
but we should let people close to us know, dispel their fears.” Or as
Tirthankar Guha Thakurta did, walk, one end of a banner reading ‘Same Sex, Same
Rights’ clutched in his hand. Tirthankar, a
former student of the prestigious Calcutta National Medical College, is now an
activist filmmaker of gender and gay rights. Though he came out a few years ago,
this was the first time he took part in Pride Walk. “Last year my mother didn’t
allow me to go for the march,” he says. He is happy that he decided to come for
the walk. “Maybe my photograph will appear in the newspapers, but that will only
show that I’m at peace with myself.”

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