The queer community and their friends and family will colourfully come out on the streets in pride and solidarity of their choice of sexualities as part of the Queer Pride Parades in Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Pune tomorrow.
While the Queer Pride Parade started in Delhi and Bangalore and Chennai in 2008, Pune’s celebrations started only in 2011. From the first informal pride parade that took place in Kolkata in 1997, it has been a while that people from the community have colourfully painted the streets. However, many in the community feel that sensitising people towards what are not perceived as normative sexual identities is still a long walk.
Homophobia usually plays out in violence on the community mentally, physically, emotionally and economically, making 'coming out' a tough and trying task. Earlier this month, 13 people were arrested in Hassan in Karnataka by the police under section 377. “The police went to the homes of some of those arrested saying that they were from a HIV Prevention unit. Then they coerced these people into naming a few others and arrested them as well,” alleges Mallappa, state co-ordinator of the Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum, who led a protest of 200 people in the Town Hall in Bangalore two weeks ago.
These arrests, the largest under section 377, followed a complaint of sexual assault by an engineering student against six men. The police, who is mum on the recourse they choose to arrest the 13, had allegedly coerced some of these men to name the others to book them for indulging in “unnatural sex”. “The police has repeatedly shown its insensitivity towards the LGBT community. Even in the Pinki Pramanik case, who identifies herself as female, they put her in a prison cell with male inmates,” says queer activist Rituparna Bora, who is part of Pride Committee, the team organising the Delhi Queer Pride Parade.
“It is also very difficult for a queer person to report partner assault to the police. Mostly, they are turned away, or worse, threatened with section 377. Usually it is not applied. You don’t need to be gay to be able to rape a man. There have been so many reports of sexual violence from the police too. There are also ‘corrective rapes’ on lesbian women and transgender individuals, or ‘electric shock therapy’ on gay men. Without a legal support system, who do you turn to?” asks activist Manak Matiyani, who is also part of the Pride Committee.
Families of some from the community have also been long known to inflict various forms of coercion on them. “There have been so many cases when people had to run away from their families for fear of intimidation. I had, myself, provided shelter to a runaway friend not long ago. There is also intimidation through silence where families cut off economic support and lock people up,” adds Matiyani.
“Families are a huge trouble spot. We grow up learning only of one type of family -- a hetero-patriarchal family. There is no deconstruction of different types of families,” rues Bora.
To deal with issues as basic as these means that the debate never proceeds beyond a certain point. “In our country, we’ve always had to fight for roles from the bare basics -- the police, family, society. It is the same with the women’s movement, or the Dalit movement. In the case of the LGBT movement, especially, the discussion never goes to the intellectual level,” says Mumbai-based Vikram Johri, a language trainer and independent journalist.
There is also an erring role the media plays in depicting the community. Stereotypical depictions and voyeuristic reportage ensure that there is a sense of titillation when the community is spoken of. “The media should report responsibly. There have been instances when photos are taken without consent. Also, instances when the reporting happens in the absence of the journalist,” says Shalini Krishnan, who works with a publishing house and is a member of the Pride Committee.
“The media turns up only when there is an event. There are no regular stories on the community. The issues faced by the community are hardly ever talked about. There is also always an amount of trivialisation and sensationalism involved when reporting on the community,” says Bora.
“The media needs to be discriminative of its reportage with more dialogue or nuance. Recently a man in Malad, who had sexual relations with a man, was found murdered. Similarly, a man in Delhi was murdered some time ago, who had sexual relationships with several men. But in the reportage, there has been a certain sordidness. The focus was on the titillating details. I think one needs to be gay, to be in the same shoes as us, to be able to report about us,” says Johri.
Another prominent media personality who was associated with the Queer Media Collective in the capital, who wished to remain anonymous, feels that misreporting by lazy journalists is a huge disservice. “There was an instance of a few journalists gatecrashing a party posing as gay men. This is a clear violation of a person’s private space. In my stint with this newspaper, I always felt that photos were a problem. Stories were dropped because there were no photos. There are instances when a person coming out on TV is zoomed on repeatedly, or take for instance the Ellen Degeneres show, where there is never a mention of her being a lesbian. Having said that, there has also been sensitive reporting. The internet is a far more liberal place, because it offers anonymity,” she says.
With the judgement on the challenge posed to the decriminalisation of 377 by the Delhi High Court expected to be out soon, the community is waiting with bated breadth. Till then, let the colours come out brighter and prouder on the streets.