Delhi celebrates Pride Month every November since the annual Queer Pride Parade started in 2007. This year, however, the month opened to mourning and self-reflection. “In this Pride Month, we come to the streets, demand rights. But this cannot be the month of our pride until we understand that in our community there are enough such people for whom this right is a question of life and death,” journalist and activist Dhrubo Jyoti said at a protest vigil organised by the Delhi Queer Pride collective at Jantar Mantar on November 17, 2016.
The protest was organised to demand justice for Tara, a 28-year-old thirunangai (a word trans-women in Tamil Nadu have coined for themselves) from Chennai, who was found severely burnt outside the Pondy Bazaar police station in Chennai on the morning of Nov. 9. In a statement made in the Kilpauk Medical College hospital before her death, she had reportedly alleged harassment by the police as the reason for her immolation. The protesters at Jantar Mantar also demanded institutional changes to prevent criminalisation and harassment of transgender persons.
A representative from Tamil Nadu told the protest gathering that the thirunangai community is empowered in Tamil Nadu and that such violence has happened after many years. She also alleged that the police had been planning to harass the transgender community. “That’s why such injustice has happened to Tara,” she said. “That’s why the CCTV footage and everything in front of the police are not being shown. Why are they not showing? If a transgender person, a thirunangai dies, is it acceptable? She did nothing wrong,” she added.
Shambhawi Vikram, on behalf of Dhanak, an initiative by students of Jawaharlal Nehru University for gender and queer-rights sensitisation, said that manner in which institutions humiliate transgender persons should also be considered violence. “It should not be a condition that only when a particular scale of violence takes place, our rage will be expressed,” she said.
Devika Shekhawat from Pinjra Tod, a collective working against gender-discrimination in hostels and accommodation for women students in Delhi, added that infrastructure, public spaces, campuses, etc are accessible to people “who are tick-marked on every box of acceptability.”
The non-implementation of the NALSA judgment, which gave formal recognition to transgender persons, solidarity between different oppressed groups, and harassment within public spaces and institutions came up several times during the nearly two-hour protest vigil. Slogans of “Jai Hijra” and “Modi sarkaar sharam karo” were also raised.
Towards the end of the protest, Vikramaditya Sahai, a queer activist who teaches at Ambedkar University, explained, in light of the upcoming Delhi Queer Pride Parade, that the framework of pride needs to be discarded. “In the Queer Pride that takes place in the city and comes back to this very road, we see the LGB persons segregating themselves from the T persons. And the gay men who can pass off as straight say that they are not like these kothi-type people or are not like people like me, who maybe are from a certain class but are a little shaky in the matter of gender. So when somebody talks of pride, they will talk of it only when somebody else is shamed,” he said. He suggested that the queer movement should aim for self-respect instead of pride in conjunction with the voices being raised by the Dalit community and feminist movements “that does not want to say that some people can take pride while others die in shame.”
While the vigil ended with candles being lit by the protestors, justice for Tara has become a prominent demand by the Delhi Queer Pride Committee, which is to organise the Queer Pride Parade on November 27.