“Down with 377!” chants a large crowd on a balmy Sunday afternoon as it marches through the heart of Chennai, each word punctuated by cheers and the hard thump of the thavil – the traditional Tamil drum.
“My life!” bellows one of the leaders of the parade, to a resounding response of “My decision!”
This is the annual Chennai Rainbow Pride Parade, an event that gives members of the LGBTQ community a chance to rally with supporters for two major demands – equal rights and dismissal of Section 377.
Section 377 of Indian Penal Code terms homosexuality as unnatural and carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail. Going by the global trends in this regard, there have been demands in India to decriminalise homosexuality.
The community has been taking out this rally – spearheaded by a loose coalition of groups for sexual health and LGBTQ rights – for a couple of years now. Prior to that, another pride march was conducted under the aegis of an NGO.
However, Jayashree – the transgender general manager of sexual health organisation Sahodaran – believes Sunday’s pride was “the best in years”.
“It gives me great pleasure to see the energy of the crowd today, especially that of all the new faces who joined us,” she says.
“If I have one message to convey, it is to parents across Tamil Nadu and the country: Do not try and make children conform to gender norms! Instead, just raise a good human being.”
This year’s parade saw a large turnout, with people dancing, singing street songs in the Tamil tradition of Dappankuthu and delivering speeches. A small but significant number of foreigners were also present at the pride.
“I’m here to support equal rights,” says Eva, a Danish national who is writing a dissertation as part of an exchange programme. “It’s ridiculous that homosexuality is a crime in India.”
India’s archaic laws, which discriminate against the LGBTQ community, came into sharp focus in the backdrop of recent events such as the deadliest mass shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, which led to the murder of 49 homosexuals.
“We are all here because it is our basic human right to love whomever we wish to,” says Raj Iyer, who stayed abroad for the last three years.
Local residents watched – some bemused, others indifferent and a few happy – as the parade wound its way from Egmore to Pantheon Road circle via Pudupet. Many enjoyed the parade because of all the dancing.
“I’ve been enjoying the parade for the last three years,” grins 40-year-old Suresh R, one of the few who shook a leg with the marchers. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Others, however, understood that the importance of the Rainbow Pride Parade goes beyond song and dance.
“Some of the nicest people I have met are transgenders,” says Ravikumar S, a 45-year-old autorickshaw driver from Triplicane.
“They are people, just like you and I. I see no difference between us,” he adds.