Kolkata LGBTQ activists recall India’s first gay pride walk in 1999
Activists from the LGBTQ community in Kolkata on Thursday recalled the first pride walk of the country with just a handful of participants against Section 377 in the city 19 years ago as India celebrated the Supreme Court’s verdict decriminalising homosexuality.
The 15 people walked from Park Circus grounds to Esplanade, a distance of about 6km, wearing yellow t-shirts and blue trousers on July 2, 1999. They were holding aloft just a few handwritten posters.
“It was around 2-2:30 in the afternoon. We walked for barely an hour,” Pawan Dhall, one of the pioneers of the same sex rights movement in Kolkata, recalled.
From the 15 participants, the walk has now grown into a highly-publicised gathering of thousands of people that is now known as the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk (KRPF).
“Last year, the number of participants crossed a few thousands. Several people who are not from the community participated in the walk to express solidarity,” said Dhall, founder of Varta Trust, which runs India’s first LGBTQ health and legal helpline portal, “Reach Out”.
Now, tableaux are taken out and dances held during the walks. When the walk started in 1999, there was no requirement for police permission but over the years as the crowd has grown, seeking permission from the police has become mandatory. The route for the pride walk is also fixed after taking advice from the police.
The top court said gay sex among consenting adults is not an offence after hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality. In four separate but concurring verdicts, the five judges of the top court ruled that the section failed to make a distinction between consensual and non-consensual acts.
“As a legal professional, I feel that this is the second Independence of all Indian citizens, and not just from the people from the community, from a draconian law that carried the baggage of colonial legacy,” Kaushik Gupta, a Calcutta High Court lawyer who takes part in these walks regularly, said.