The majestic city of Lucknow hosted the very first Lucknow Pride Parade earlier this week. It was a beautiful congregation of a three hundred people, marching down the streets of Lucknow in a colorful display of solidarity. For multiple reasons, the success of this event tells a more compelling story about India’s evolution, than the more popular Pride Walks in Kolkata, Delhi or Bangalore.
It all began in the Summer of ’99
In July 1999, Owais Khan, (the author of this beautiful article, where he describes the experience), along with 14 other people, walked in the first ever Pride Walk in India. This was in Kolkata, the cultural capital of the nation. Times of India carried a thoughtful article about the effort, but the response was lukewarm, as was expected. Many were disappointed with the turnout, but Owais was hopeful. In the article, he writes poignantly,
“Some said fifteen is too little a number to begin with. But consider this: before The Walk, the gay people who were publicly open about their (homo)sexuality within India were countable on the fingers of one hand. Now, at least one needs two hands to count them.”
Back then, concessions had to be made. They couldn’t call the event a ‘Parade’ or a ‘March’ – to avoid any suggestion of militancy or claim to rights. It was a ‘friendly walk’ – a soft launch, if you please, to ensure that the effort didn’t further alienate an already fragmented society. That was only the beginning of a journey that saw its pinnacle in 2012, when the same march in the City of Joy saw 1500 people come out in support of LGBTQ rights.
Impact of Popular Media on Diversity
I can clearly remember the times when members of my own, progressive, urban family (including my teenage self), considered homosexuality a disorder. Some of these were people with international exposure, college degrees and common sense. And yet, the idea of non-straight sexuality was one of deep distress.
The earliest media creation to deal with the topic was Vijay Tendulkar’s play, Mitrachi Gostha, in 1981. In 1996, Deepa Mehta released her pioneering film, Fire. Before these path-breaking art pieces, a homosexual person was depicted in either strong negative shades, or as a ‘joke of a human’ in Indian media. Fire received strong negative reactions, especially from certain political bodies, who held violent protests to shut it down. But, it served a purpose. It started a dialogue, that gained momentum furiously.
In 2005, came Onir’s sensitive and beautiful movie, My Brother Nikhil. This time around, the reaction was not as ferocious. The film managed to garner some well-deserved, critical acclaim. Needless to say, that the movie worked in elite, metro pockets.
Regional filmmakers, like B. S. Lingadevaru, Ligy Pullapally, Kaushik Ganguly among a few others, have also made meaningful movies that helped the cause.
In Bengal, I have personally witnessed the impact of the legend, Rituparno Ghosh, in molding public reaction to diverse sexuality. Rituparno, an openly gay director/actor, and a genius at his craft, left behind a legacy of path-breaking work on the emotions of diverse humans – especially in Arekti Premer Golpo, Memories in March, and Chitrangada. It was after watching Memories in March, that I remember my mother saying soulfully, “I think I can understand ‘them’ now”. There was still a barrier between her reality and the reality of the LGBTQ community, but it was a significant move forward.
Note: While on the topic, I recommend this treatise on the subject. Thorough and meaningful. Data and inspiration taken from this article
Why Lucknow Pride Parade is Special
Even while this movement is afoot, and media is generating acceptance through different means, the rights of LGBTQ+ community in India remain sketchy. In 2009, the Supreme Court had found Sec 377 of IPC (homosexual intercourse is a criminal offence) unconstitutional. It was a great leap forward for India. However, in 2013, the apex court set aside its own decision to find Sec 377 constitutional. To this day, the struggle for equal rights continues in the country. While Shashi Tharoor still hopes to reintroduce his bill to decriminalize homosexuality, he has had double defeat on the same issue in 2015 and 2016.
Cut to Lucknow, 2017. The city is known best for its biriyani, its rich legacy in arts, its history, and its conservative attitude. This seems like a setting where the odds against LGBTQ rights are stacked sky high. Yet, Lucknow found within its large heart the love for humanity, that is not blinded by differences. Hundreds came out openly, supported by their friends and family. There were no uproars, violence or disruption to a beautiful melee of love. In many ways, Lucknow set the tone for a much larger India to welcome diversity with open arms.
The beautiful pictures of the Parade give us hope for a better future. We are optimistic that wide-scale acceptance, and empathy is right round the corner. I close with the tagline from ’99’s Friendship Walk,
“Don’t think straight, think human”
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