Part II | The Pride Movement in India: Inclusiveness and the Future
This is part two of an article looking at the pride movement in India. I would like to give a huge thanks to Harish Iyer, Koninika Roy, Pawan Dhall and Milin Dutta for taking the time to speak to me about their personal experiences with pride in India. I would also like to thank every brave soul who has ever organised, protested or marched in a parade to help shape what pride in India has become today, and to those who were not able to participate, but supported from afar.
Pride parades around the world have seen a drastic change in history. The emphasis from pride as protest to pride as rainbow capitalism has been evident. The question begs to be asked: what will pride look like in 50 years? India doesn’t have as much of an extensive history with pride as say, the US, and this allows for a more exciting venture into how pride can be shaped into spaces of queer utopias, free of judgement, inclusive and purposeful with their advocacy. But as of right now, what does pride in India look like in terms of diversity?
Pride for Everyone?
Is pride just seen as a gay man’s parade? This sentiment seems to ring true at many parades around the world. Do members of the lesbian, bisexual and trans (LBT) community feel included at pride? Koninika Roy, advocacy manager at the Humsafar Trust and writer, spoke about the inclusion of these groups at pride: ‘I feel that we had done a lot of advocacy with the LBT community a few years ago and were able to gather a huge contingent of about 100 women but again in a sea of about 10000 people, it’s miniscule’. When large numbers of gay men visibly and physically dominate these spaces, it can be hard for other queer people not to feel like outsiders at these events. Delhi Queer Pride are really intentional with making their space as accessible as possible, with putting as much emphasis on supporting Dalit rights, disability rights and feminism, alongside the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, and e-rickshaws were even organised by the committee, for participants with special needs and elderly people. Other parades in India can definitely follow suit with the good practice exhibited at Delhi Queer Pride.
Larger NGOs and organisations also have an impact on the makeup of participants. The arguments of including these NGOs, as opposed to the protests being more people led, are a lot more nuanced than what they may seem. Kolkata Pride was initially criticised for being too NGO led (their audiences mainly being gay men and trans women), with little involvement from lesbian and bisexual women, trans men, or other sections of the queer community. ‘From 2011, organising changed, and more queer women started participating, but those former NGOs had funds to facilitate queer people from districts further away to attend, by providing hotel and transport costs’, states Pawan Dhall. The pride parades often had a diversity with people where pride celebrations were non-existent, and without funding or support from NGOs, certain individuals who live in areas with no pride celebrations cannot attend.
Language as a Tool for Advocacy
India is also a country with over 19,500 languages and dialects and no national language, rather 22 ‘official’ languages as stated in the constitution. Language is a considerable barrier in advocacy, and a lack of diversity in language provisions in India can mean important messages aren’t reaching everyone. Koninika feels that pride should be more considerate with language. Speaking about the Pune and Chennai Pride, she cites how amazing it is that ‘pride crosses language barriers and reaches the bystander by purposefully speaking their language’. With more of an emphasis on English language learning in India every year, it’s imperative to also include messages for social change in the regional language in which the parades are taking place.
Corporate Involvement with Pride
Along with the notion of where do all members of the queer community fit in, the idea of corporate involvement in pride has always been a contentious one. Certain committees have been intentional with the complete separation of corporations from pride, such as Delhi Queer Pride. However, while Milin Dutta understands why many pride parades don’t take corporate sponsorship, he feels that corporations can help drive social change, particularly with LGBTQ+ rights. Pawan also shares similar feelings, stating that ‘for many people, economic inclusion for LGBTQ+ people is the priority, the symbolism of pride is not. And my vision would be to try and bring the two together. Pride as an event, if thoughtfully organised, can almost be an employment generator, without taking away from the symbolic value’.
With organisations such as the Pride Circle having organised a sell out job fair for LGBTQ+ individuals, economic participation for the community is being taken more seriously by businesses. Corporations being involved with pride can really help, but we could see a worrying shift where the inclusion of corporations prevails over the inclusion of the most marginalised of the community.
Hopes and Visions for the Future
Milin would love for all the ‘corners of Assam’ to be involved with pride celebrations in the future. His hopes extend beyond pride, moving into work with schools and colleges, and other institutions. For example, for many trans people, there is a large barrier in accessing many health services. ‘My goal is to have more health conferences because right now for anyone who would like to transition, people have to go out of Assam…we want those services in Assam’. Koninika would love to see QAM reach the level of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Mumbai, and with attendance growing every year, who knows how big QAM will be in 10 years?
Archiving should also be a significant tool in activism, and is a fundamental part of documenting queer history, an act that Pawan wants us, as queer activists, to get better at doing. So much important history can be retained and learnt from, especially in the early stages of pride activism. Pawan’s vision is that ‘we do not lose the history of original motivations and where we started from’.
Pride as a tool for visibility and advocacy is vital, but it can and should be more radical to make it more inclusive for all queer people. There needs to be space and provisions for people with disabilities, the LBT community and other marginalised groups. Economic inclusion is something that is a huge concern for LGBTQ+ individuals, but perhaps its involvement at pride should be non-existent, or limited at best, and separate events should be organised to focus on this pertinent issue. Overall, it has been really inspirational to see queer people being unapologetically queer in India and pride parades serve as a remarkable platform for this. Hopefully there will be a space for every LGBTQ+ individual in the future of pride in India, and this queer utopia that we all envision can be achieved.
Harshil Shah is a Research Assistant with the Queer Resource Centre at One Future Collective.
Featured image source: Awareness Days