“Hum kya chahte? Aazadi!”, “What do we want? Human rights!”, “I am saying it loudly, ‘I am an Indian and I support gay rights’.” “Stop stigma and discrimination.” These were the banners and poignant cries that filled the atmosphere in Sector 17 on Sunday evening as Chandigarh saw its third LGBTQ pride walk.
Dressed in loud colours in the community’s trademark way of asserting its presence, people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning (LGBTQ) walked quietly up to the middle of the Plaza, in front of Neelam Theatre, and shared their worries, demands and concerns.
At the heart of the programme, they are now seeking to uphold the 2009 Supreme Court (SC) verdict that read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to decriminalise consensual sex among adults of the same sex. That reading down had been set aside, and the same-sex procreation criminalised again by another SC verdict of 2013. Now a review petition is pending.
Dhananjay Chauhan, president of the Saksham Trust, an NGO, that organised the event, said a heartening factor of the walk was participation of a large number of people who do not necessarily identify as the LGBTQ.
Social activist Bikramjit S Kohli was more blunt: “It’s particularly disappointing that the stance of the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is against our community.”
Talking to HT, Kohli said: “We are among a handful of countries that have criminalised the gay community. Do we really want to be counted among places like Saudi Arabia, Rwanda and Yemen on this count? The world has changed, and equal rights are a basic trait of a liberal, democratic country.”
Addressing the gathering, Delhi-based activist and lawyer Aditya Bandopadhyay said: “We are also human. How hard is that to understand? We need all right-thinking people to support us, because we are not inhuman. And we are seeking basic human rights. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about ‘sab ka vikas’ (progress for all), he needs to think of us also. Otherwise, the ‘vikas’ is meaningless.”
What they want
A demand charter distributed at the site demanded that Section 377 be wiped out. “We exhort the media to be fair and not trivialise us and our issues. We urge the film industry in India to stop perpetuating stereotypes and depicting caricatures of our lives,” read a pamphlet by Saksham. More specifically, it asked the Chandigarh administration and the governments of Punjab and Haryana to “build on the work of the Transgender Welfare Board.
Many among the bystanders were amused, while many joined in, clapping as a mark of solidarity. Prem Singh, a driver, made a rather simple point, “What wrong have they done? Nothing, I think. There is no reason to discriminate just because they are attracted to whoever they want to be attracted to.”
Just as the walk was about to end, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Yogendra Yadav showed up. He said for any issue to become an agenda for mainstream political parties, especially who play vote bank politics, it’s imperative that a public voice emerges.