It was the 2019 Delhi Queer Pride. Over 12,000 of us had gathered at New Delhi's Barakhamba Road on a chilly November afternoon, waiting to get the celebrations started.
But before the beats of the dhol could reverberate through the streets of the capital, the Delhi Police told us they've cancelled our permission to march.
They were told they couldn't let us proceed because we had mentioned the Kashmir trifurcation and the attack on students of Jamia Millia Islamia in our parcha (a list of demands usually distributed at the pride venue) for the year.
But as we were negotiating, one of my acquaintances did something incredible – he lay down on the road, saying: "Sir, ab toh main yahan se nahi uthne wala. Aapne mujhe permission de di thi (Sir, now I'm not going to get up. You had given me permission)."
I chimed in: "Nearly 12,000 people have come to the march. Where do I send them?"
The police sahebs couldn't help but laugh. They knew we wouldn't budge. It took us a few hours of back and forth, but we managed to walk that pride with our heads held high.
That's what pride is. It's a glorious protest – it's a protest where you dissent but also celebrate.
Since its inception in 2008 – with just about 50 participants – the Delhi Queer Pride has come a long way. As the city gears up for its first 'post-pandemic' march on Sunday, 8 January, I can't help but reminisce and share my hopes for the future.
Delhi Queer Pride Through My Eyes
The Delhi Queer Pride (DQP) and I go back a long way. I have been volunteering with DQP since 2010 and have had a front-row seat, too – from running social media campaigns to being the crowd controller over the years.
Each year, the number of people at pride parades just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Over 12,000-15,000 people have been attending the marches over the past few years. What's even better is that the number of unmasked people has also grown!
Earlier, most people at pride marches masked their faces – be it with a face cover or with makeup. Now, they're a minority; this means that they are either out or they are confident that they don't want to hide their identity anymore – whether they are a queer person or an ally.
The dynamics and the demographics of DQP have also changed. There's nothing more heartening than seeing young parents bringing their kids to pride. This is affirmative because, essentially, these parents are telling their kids: 'Hey, you have this space. Make it yours.'
These kids have probably not even reached that age where they may have figured out what their sexual orientation and gender identity are. Some may know, some may not. But parents bringing them to an inclusive space like pride certainly makes a difference.
A Reminder of the Hard Times
The success of DQP is a reminder of how far we've come, what's at stake, and most importantly, what it took us to get here.
The 2014 march was difficult. In December 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the 2009 Delhi High Court judgment, which stated that criminalising homosexuality was "unconstitutional."
After years of being gawked at and being told we don't belong, we were slowly making ourselves visible over time. Naturally, we were so angry when we walked the streets of Delhi that day.
We were told to go back into our closets; we were told we were not allowed to love who we want.
But even so, we were a hopeful bunch. The 2013 ruling, which claimed that "a minuscule fraction of the country's population constitute LGBT," only made us more adamant to walk the pride and make ourselves seen.
We wanted to tell them that we're here – and that we're not going anywhere.
Even the public was our ally. After the 2013 judgment, they were more inclined to ask the government and the Supreme Court to let people be and guarantee their safety – because at the time, the country was witnessing massive protests against rape and crimes against women.
But things have changed – and for the better. Over the last few years, starting with police personnel, people have become more sensitive. The police, in fact, have been protective of the participants. They may not dance to the dhol, but are very polite and make it a point to talk to people respectfully.
They walk with you, they stop the traffic for you, and they don't let anyone come and make any comments. And that is a start.
It Takes a Village
For nearly a decade, DQP has been organised on the last Sunday of November. But as volunteers, we start getting things up and running in June-July.
As a bunch of us discuss possible dates, another set of volunteers starts organising the fundraiser. They start looking for venues that welcome queer people, which are disabled-friendly, and have enough staff to make everybody feel safe and secure. But that, ironically, takes a while.
Then there's the matter of getting police permissions. Often, volunteers spend days visiting police stations to get permissions in order.
DQP is, first and foremost, a community-funded march. No kind of profit or non-profit is allowed – as an individual, you're welcome to join, but as an entity, you are not. We don't take money, we don't allow any kind of branding – and it doesn't matter if you're an NGO or a corporation.
Recently, on our Instagram handle, we shared a list of what's allowed and not allowed at DQP. "No endorsements," it clearly said. We received a lot of flak for our stance – but it's something that sets DQP apart from the rest.
We also ensure – as a collective – that pride is open to all. So, there is no organising committee, so to speak. We attend volunteer meetings, and each volunteer is as much a decision-maker as anyone else. When we say we're a community-run pride, we mean it.
From raising funds and making posters to getting the pride flag ready, it really takes a village to pull all of this together.
A Message to the Future
Above all, DQP has always been political.
Pride stands for all human rights. Our parcha lists out issues of class, caste, what people are allowed to eat, not allowed to eat, who they are allowed to marry (whether they're straight or otherwise), and violence against students, among other issues.
Intersectionality is very essential to the queer movement. For instance, I'm a woman, a Muslim woman, and a lesbian Muslim woman. How do you separate these three identities?
At pride, you see stereotypes being broken. (In fact, I make it a point to wear a saree at pride to break the stereotypes associated with my identity.)
So, as I choose my saree and get my crowd-control danda ready for pride this year, I'm elated that more and more young people are joining the march in organisational roles.
I hope this number only grows over the years.
I also hope that over the next five years, pride gets bigger – instead of a five-hour affair, I hope it becomes a 24-hour affair. I hope that DQP's intersectional politics, which makes our pride what it is, stays intact even as we grow.
And as someone who's been at the forefront of the march (quite literally), I hope to retire soon and actually walk the pride.
(Noor Enayat is an LGBTQIA+ activist and publicist. She has been volunteering for the Delhi Queer Pride since 2010. The views expressed here are the author's own; The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
(As told to Mythreyee Ramesh and Meenakshy Sasikumar.)
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)