By Akhil Katyal:
I will give you two big reasons to come join the Delhi Queer Pride this 30th November. One, that there is something dark upon us– a climate of bigotry that is targeting series of folks which it considers as trouble – be it homosexuals, Hijras, inter-caste couples, kissing teenagers or even women in live-in relationships. And that we need to start blowing up this darkness with little dynamites of light. Thousands of people need to be on the street just for this, to take care of this rising intolerance. And second, that the Delhi Queer Pride is something very unique in the world. As the campaigns for LGBT rights in many cities across the globe devolve into little other than yearly extravaganzas mainly for local businesses and only-fun-no-politics parades, Delhi along with so many other cities and small towns in India and the global south, seems to be doing something very heartening – holding politics and celebration in the same hands, smiling and sloganeering, and coming on the streets for not just the world which gets better for a few privileged gay and lesbian folk, but with a vision that wants to restore the world to the outsiders, the trouble-makers, the ones at the receiving end of the menacing heterosexist, Brahmanical forces that are on the ascendant here. Let me elaborate on both these reasons.
First, there are things that have happened just in the last three months that should permanently seal outrage on our skins and tell us what we are up against. Close to the Bangalore Pride last week, the Bangalore police arbitrarily arrested, even dragging some from their homes, around 170 Hijras and siphoned them off to the Beggars colony on unfounded charges. The big-scale purge was shocking and made a mockery of the ground-breaking NLSA vs. Union of India Supreme Court judgment earlier this year which promised “to safeguard the constitutional rights of the members of the TG community”. The picture is hardly better closer to us in the capital. Recently, at a very popular central Delhi market, which is also a meeting and cruising point for lots of working class and lower middle class queer men, a bunch of goons got together and beat up these folks, with sticks. Seeing visibly effeminate or slightly cross-dressed men sent their blood raging and with cries of “inko sabak sikhaana hi padega” (“they have to be taught a lesson”) and “saare gay hain, ek ek ko pakad ke peeto” (“all are gay, beat the hell out of each of them”), they set about chasing and beating these men. I am left thinking what it must do to the sense of claim over public space for people meeting such egregious violence on a regular evening out in the park or strolling by the pavements. And it strengthens my resolve that we must be out on the streets, in public spaces, parading, taking this space away from the likes of men who thought nothing of thrashing up folks they thought were different. This culture of intolerance is best resisted in full public glare. We can’t only tweet against it, we have to march against it.
There are many other examples which expand this murky picture and link it unmistakably to the powers that be in Delhi today. The recent kiss-of-love protest near the Jhandewalan metro station, for example, saw vile counter-protests by the Sangh Parivar calling the kissing bunch – ‘Western, un-cultured, freaks’. The student outfit of this same Parivar – the ABVP – continues to trash every idea of women’s choice in the book as they carry on campaigns against live-in relationships in places like Delhi University and promise to take this campaign countrywide.
Meanwhile, a national spokesperson of our ruling party, the hollow-headed Shaina NC takes gender-phobia and misogyny to a sparkling new level when, at a function in Jaipur recently, she says that she does not know whether the BSP leader Mayawati is a “he or a she”. Yes, because a Dalit woman who heads her own party and is powerful, spoils the very foundation of your fragile, Brahmanical, chiffon femininity. When we march in the Pride parade in Delhi this 30th November, we march against all of these signs of dogmatism. We raise alarm against all of them. We celebrate the possibility of the world which does not have to meet the likes of Hijra-phobic police forces, of misogynist student outfits whose world sees no colour but khaki and saffron, of moralizing, casteist social forces who we hope will finally go gently into that good night.
My second reason is equally important. That Delhi Queer pride, along with pride marches in some other countries of the global south, are the last standing bulwarks of a vision of LGBT politics that is celebratory without being apolitical. That the future of LGBT politics that is worth its salt is being written on the streets of Delhi, Kolkata, Dhaka or Kampala. Because, otherwise, there are such perverse ways in which the rhetoric of LGBT rights have been redrawn around the world. Consider this – we live in a time when Israel uses the lexicon of LGBT rights and the fact that it has homosexual soldiers in its army, as a legitimizing device for its genocidal offensive against Palestine. It’s a sad day for LGBT politics to find itself turning into an alleyway where it lends even a shred of credibility to one of the most gruesome and oldest military occupations in the world. That is not the future we want to write for LGBT politics in India. Or, for instance, consider the fact that the Human Rights Campaign in the U.S.A. – which calls itself the country’s largest “civil rights” organization working for equality of LGBT Americans – recently named, without sensing any contradiction, Monsanto, the “best place to work for LGBT equality”. One could have vomited. Monsanto has created havoc in the world of seeds and farming around the world. But the HRC mandate is that the farmers who are brought to starvation due to Monsato’s policies around the world, India included, farmers who are facing ruining lawsuits from the company for patent infringement, are to be easily written off the calculus of a self-involved LGBT politics. If HRC has it its way around the world, the shroud covering the Indian cotton farmer who has committed suicide due to bankruptcy, will be rainbow coloured. And we don’t want that day ever to come.
In India, LGBT politics has not come to this form, not yet, but strong signs of it are there and we have to resist them with all our might. In the Delhi Queer Pride this year, we march as individuals, holding in our hands the promise of a world in which LGBT politics runs with a larger progressive mandate and ties up with a larger vision of equality for all, not just for few gays and lesbians who have made it. We march against the rising tide of fanaticism and censorship in our own country, and within our government, and to tell the world around us, that we who believe in equality, freedom and pleasure, of every kind and on all counts, are here to stay and to remake the world in our mould. Watch out for us all.
Akhil Katyal is a writer and translator based in Delhi. His first book of poetry “Night Charge Extra” is forthcoming with Writers Workshop in June, 2015.