Aiming at social acceptance of the LGBT (Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community in the North East Region and Assam, people from several works of life including LGBT rights activists and members from the LGBT community, took part in the NER’s first ever Queer Pride Parade held in Guwahati on Sunday, February 9, 2014.
The Pride March in Guwahati on Sunday was organised by the Guwahati unit of the LGBT community, and was supported by several other LGBT rights enthusiasts. These activists included students from various schools and colleges, working professionals, and also media persons, who stood in solidarity with the Guwahati unit of the LGBT community and supported their cause.
The march began from in front of the Dighalipukhuri main gate at 11 am and commenced at the round-around (fountain point) in front of the TC Girls’ School travelling via RBI Point-Old SP Office – Commissioners Point – Latasil – Lamb Road.
Clad in colourful clothes — skirts, pants, coloured wigs and funky costumes, the participants came together to express their pride and joy. Several participants also wore masks.
“Oppression and discrimination in India against the LGBT community is not new and there are innumerable everyday instances of labelling the community as ‘immoral’ and ‘unnatural’. The suppression, violence and terror that the community has to live with everyday for not conforming to deep rooted stereotypical social norms and notions of sexuality are often ignored. The people are not alien or they are not abnormal. They are just like any other normal human being. We protest against the Section 377, which suppresses the basic human rights of the community,” said Mili Dutta, one of the members from the organising committee of the March.
“The choice is ours, who we love, whom we chose,” she further added.
Onlookers present in the road looked at the protesters with a curious look.
“Till date I have seen protesters ranting slogans aggressively but this is something new. They are serious about their demands and yet they are enjoying,” said Rajen Saha, an onlooker who joined the March from between, after he was briefed about the motive of the March.
“Section 377 is draconian,” he further added.
Several other onlookers though did not participated in the March actively, but supported the protesters morally by cheering and encouraging them. Flags and toy hearts were also distributed to the onlookers.
“377 Go Back”, “Banning LGBT does not make you straight”, “Those Who Mind Don’t Matter, Those Who Matter Don’t Mind” were some of the placards that were put up by the protesters.
It may be mentioned here that in 2009, the Delhi High Court made a significant ruling in the Naz case, ending 150 years of criminalisation and oppression under the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The court confirmed that the people of the LGBT community are equal citizens of this country and thus entitled to all the constitutional protections of equality, liberty, privacy, dignity and health.
But, in 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed the Delhi HC ruling and declared consensual sex between two persons belonging to the same gender as an offence and punishable up to life imprisonment. A petition made for its revival was also refused. This SC verdict on Section 377 and the Court’s subsequent refusal to review the verdict has outraged the entire country and also the international forum.
Calling the verdict as a direct attack on their rights, the LGBT community across the country, since then, have gathered in numbers and have been protesting openly and the Pride March held in Guwahati today is just the beginning of a new chapter.
“The mindset of the people will not change in a day. It takes time to change the mindset. This is a god beginning and we thank Guwahati for the love and support showered upon us,” said Minakshi, another member from the organising committee.
“Manipur has a vibrant LGBTQ community although no LGBTQ pride march has been organized in the state so far. It is strange that this sad state of affairs exist despite the ancient existence of the LGBTQ community in India including Assam and other North Eastern states,” she further added.
The discourse on LGBT is still at its nascent stage in North East India. Although a few projects initiated under State bodies have been working with the community, these initiatives focus only on the health and safety aspect of the community. There is also a lack of organizations, especially in the context of Assam that has taken up the cause of the LGBT from an Identity and Human Rights perspective. While the issue is still invisible in the public sphere, it remains undercover in the private sphere.
Although there were many ups in today’s March, the biggest setback was the absent of several noted personalities belonging to the community.
“I was expecting the presence of several of those Guwahatians, who are the frontrunners in organising meets and get-togethers of the community. But today, absent of a few of them is the only minus I can point out to. A crowd gathering of 150 plus people is definitely a positive sign,” said an active LGBT activist-cum-worker with the condition of anonymity.