Protests are a hallmark of an active democracy, of all democracies actually. But something that can be unique to India is a celebration of its diversity. This is what I witnessed last Sunday at the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. It was a gathering of a large group of people with a common cause: to fight discrimination. But it wasn’t a protest; it was a celebration.
Queer pride parades happen all over the world, but what was unique about this was the coming together of people from many other walks of life; the Dalits, the Adivasis, women, and persons with disabilities, among other groups. It was a beginning at that, and even though people from other groups or their supporters didn’t make it in the numbers, one would have liked, the challenges they face had a voice. This needs to be allowed to grow and become something that can absorb the many voices being raised against the growing forms of oppression in our country.
It was a casual Sunday and life was moving along at a sluggish pace. Actually, I was sleeping when suddenly I learned that because of my sheer stupidity and laziness, I had missed attending a talk by Ravish Kumar at the Times Lit Fest. Out of desperate unwillingness to let a Sunday go waste, frantic Facebook event searches followed. I learned about the Queer Pride Parade and was like, “Let’s do this”. But then ‘introvert’s block’ kicked in, and I went looking for all possible reasons to not do something alone.
After failed attempts to get tickets for ‘Dear Zindagi’, and thanks to a thousand tantrums my friends threw, in my frustration, I found the determination to catch a metro to Barakhamba and be a part of something amazing.
What was very unique about the whole setting was that even though there was a sense of revolt, there weren’t any signs of aggression or frustration; it was a very happy occasion and could easily have been mistaken for an Indian ‘baraat‘ (wedding procession). There was a dhol, and people were singing and dancing around it. Someone even brought a hula hoop.
There were many moments that would remain unforgettable. I finally got to say, ‘Azaadi’ in the ‘Azaadi slogan’ made famous by the JNU movement. “Sex karne ki azaadi. Sex na karne ki azaadi” (freedom to have sex, freedom to not have sex). Besides voicing support for LGBT freedom, it also brought into focus issues like marital rape and highlighted the importance of consent. Many other versions focused on a spectrum of issues faced by the various minority groups. I witnessed first hand the true power of this chant; its fluidity. To be able to get absorbed into any protest, irrespective of its nature, and to turn it into the voice that seeks freedom from the oppression. This makes its appeal universal and its effect unifying.
The amalgamation of all these issues of national importance into the LGBT pride parade is what I find uniquely Indian. I am not aware of something similar happening in other countries. People need to unite and support each other if any meaningful movement against the hateful campaigns of right-wing organisations is to be realised.
The cheeky placards with quirky messages added a unique voice to the parade. “Baagon me bahaar hai?” was something I chased down, to click a picture of. “Baagon me bahaar hai, humko tumse pyaar hai!” was something I missed. I guess, I did find a bit of Ravish Kumar after all. The fact that these messages have found a place on placards is a good sign. It shows that people are coming together in questioning the government and are shunning its various agents that try to suppress its criticism. But by far, my favourite message on a placard was the one about Fawad Khan and Ramdev which was put together by Japleen Pasricha as I later found out through Facebook.
Lending support to the march were many little kids riding on the shoulders of their parents or siblings. Such experiences go a long way in nurturing a sense of acceptance, love and respect, and ought to leave a lasting impression. What was even wonderful was to spot a mother, in her sixties maybe, who was accompanying her twenty-something son. She seemed a little overwhelmed by everything but the fact that parents are making an effort to understand their children, in ways they probably never imagined, is something encouraging to find. There were also a couple of e-rickshaws for persons with disabilities, to ensure that no one felt left out and could march along.
This is something I have learned about introverts; they like being alone a lot, away from people, but when they are among them, they get really uneasy if they find themselves alone. Maybe this is just true for me, but I would have run away had I not found some company. I started talking to a girl from Miranda House, who studied literature there and was a very wonderful person to talk to. She helped me survive the whole event, to help me focus on the things around me and not feel awkward all the time. When I told her that my name is Gaurav, she pointed out the poetic significance of its Hindi meaning and of my presence at a pride parade (Gaurav translates to pride); something I assume comes naturally to a literature student.
I was also approached by a guy who wished me ‘Happy Pride’ and told me that his guy friend found me attractive. I am not even sure how I reacted, but I think I wished him back, thanked him and told him that I am not gay. I will try to do better the next time; maybe I will go up to the guy and say the same, shake hands but also wish him a good life. If anyone reading this can recommend a better way to act in such a situation, do share.
The march ended at Jantar Mantar, where a few performances had been organised. For me, Jantar Mantar has outgrown its significance as a historical monument and has now become a place where history is made. It is the centre of public protests in the capital. As it was getting late and it was my first time there, I wanted to soak in as much as I could. I decided to break away from the crowd and walk around a bit.
There were about a dozen camps, each put up for a different cause. It was already dark, and most of the tents stood empty. But it was easy to make out from the many posters and banners there, what it would have looked like during the day. There were camps set up in protest against the government of Punjab, Haryana, and Jammu and Kashmir, to demand rights for the lesser privileged and minority groups, and to demand justice for rape survivors and murder victims. There were camps set up by ex-servicemen regarding OROP and army pension schemes. BJP supporters who have been dragging the army into senseless parallels to validate their hateful arguments would do well to visit these. The variety of protests, the kind of voices that were present, and the space different opinions enjoy here represents the true spirit of democracy.
The whole experience took me back to my childhood, when we learned about ‘Unity in diversity’. I wonder if after writing really long answers in our examination, on this ‘important’ topic, did we really learn how to give space to diverse opinions and lifestyles, did we really build upon it?
We learned about it quite early on, but it was something that was never built on. Traditionally, the entire concept was unevenly skewed towards ‘diversity’ while falling short in its focus on ‘unity’. The language was designed to overwhelm us with numbers; hundreds of languages, a thousand religions, we were told, and as a result, the human lives behind the numbers got overlooked. We were too engrossed in the specifics that its spirit escaped us. Our textbooks were focussed on engineering a sense of pride towards our country’s unity. We were effectively blindfolded to the challenges it faces and were never motivated to resolve these issues. While various diverse groups were mentioned in our books, their unique problems were not. We grew up feeling proud of our legacy but were never in a position to strengthen or sustain it. Unity and diversity effectively remained two separate concepts for us, and we never learned how to create an effective synergy between them. Maybe our education wasn’t complete in this sense, and we still have unfinished homework at hand.
We were never told about the LGBT community at school. Maybe children are now. We never developed an understanding of their lives and the challenges they face. We weren’t told anything. Yet, if one truly strived to uphold our country’s central character, its ‘Unity in diversity’, this understanding would come naturally.
I find it to be democracy’s defeat when it is reduced to be a reflection of the majority voice. Its true ideal is to be a reflection of every voice. And its true achievement when the majority voice has space for the various minority voices. When everyone speaks up for everyone. That is what we must strive for. If you wondered whether I am either L or G or B or T to be writing about LGBT issues, this is not happening. Everyone should be raising these issues.
“Of the people, by the people, for the people is meaningless if it’s not about all the people.” – Anex Stormrider