Date: June 28, 1969 Place: Stonewall Inn
No one could have guessed that a police crackdown on a bar in New York, would lead to one of histories' most remembered fight backs by one of the most alienated communities.
June 28, 2009. Place: New Delhi
As Delhi eagerly awaits the Delhi Queer Pride Parade, the question lingers - how far have we come, since 1969, when it comes to acceptance of the alternate sexuality.
"We haven't come much far", said Monish Malhotra, a member of the Delhi Queer Pride Committee. Noted gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi echoed a similar view. He said, "The situation in India today is similar to pre-Stonewall US. It was the incessant discrimination that led to the Stonewall riots of New York."
In New York of '69, people had protested, stood up for their rights and a revolution grew out of that. Monish believes that something similar is happening in India right now. People are coming out in the open for their rights. "And they are being supported by their friends and family," he said.
Yet the idea of being gay is looked down upon in our society. Media too has contributed in creating a gay stereotype, Kavi said. "But if we bother to take a deeper look at the homosexual community, it's like a rainbow. How can you typecast it into one mould", he questioned. Talking about movies, Kavi said that there are many good scripts that handle the subject of homosexuality the way it is meant to, but these scripts seldom find financiers. Movies unfailingly perpetuate the homosexual stereotype. This is where the apparent or latent homophobic nature of society is most blatant.
Kavi wondered why the sexual orientation of a person becomes the only benchmark to ascertain his or her identity. He says sexual preference is just a part of the entire persona. A homosexual can be a lot of other things too - a son, a daughter, a writer or a painter.
Regarding the need for a gay parade Kavi asserts, "A parade like the Queer Pride Parade increases the visibility on the social landscape. It also gives courage to the people. A lot of people who were wearing masks last time say that they would not do so this time."
The Delhi Queer Pride Parade is also a testament that the fight to revoke Article 377 of the IPC is still on. Talking about Article 377, Monish said that it is a vestige of the colonial era and though the British have revoked a similar law in their own country what is making India wait to follow suit.
Kavi said, "Article 377 takes away the right, to equality. Right now, it may be the only protection against sex with children, but what happens between two consenting adults in private needs to be kept out of its purview."
It needs to be said that with a large segment of the society coming out to join these parades, it doesn't mean that the number of homosexuals have increased, as feared by most right winged groups. It just shows that a larger number of people are finding the courage to come out in the open about their sexuality.
Yet a certain view in the society says - I accept the fact that you're gay but why should I tolerate you. "Most people are okay with their friends or neighbours being gay. But it is a different question altogether when it comes to one of their own family. It is only when it transcends from general to particular, that's when it tends to get problematic," said Kavi.
People may be more accepting as individuals but that acceptance is lost as a group. The basic unit of society is not the individual but the family and the latter still remains very much in control. Family acceptance is still a grey area as families do subdue certain identities. Most gay men are married because they are forced into marriage by their families.
The major difference between Indian and Western societies is that the Indian society is very family-oriented, Mr Kavi says. Parents may accept one to be gay but the family will not. A person has to contend with the rest of the family.
Monish says, "A group is composite of individuals. Yet while in private someone might agree to a stand, the views change when the issue appears in the public domain."
But the good news is that an inevitable change is brewing. "What's more to say," Monish asks, "when thousands of people line the street proclaiming their pride on being gay? It is not a trend or a song of the moment. People are able to do it on the streets. Acceptance is happening."
Last year there were three parades, all over the country. This year there are going to be six. Evidently a larger section of people are mustering courage to come out in the open with their sexuality.
Yes, Delhi's Parade promises a change but there's still a long way to go. In the words of Kavi, certain things need to take place for a change to come about in India. There has to be mobilization to change Article 377 of the IPC.
Also visibility of gay community should be increased with events like the parade or other celebrations like gay kite flying, gay biking or even the gay cat lovers club. Only with the increase in support system will there be a decrease in vulnerability. Lastly the society has to be made aware that the homosexuals are not asking for any special rights like reservations. They are asking for the rights that have been granted to all by the constitution -- that they are no different from the writer of this piece or the reader.