Joyful pictures from today’s Pride march in Mumbai will surface on the Internet any minute now.
After two years of an unforgiving pandemic and the 2020 Queer Azadi March controversy (a pride march in Mumbai where around 50 people were detained by the police for raising political slogans, following which the organisers distanced themselves from the queer folk who protested the Citizenship Amendment Act), a change in the organisers of the 2023 Mumbai Pride pointed to a sign of hope.
To be frank, I was incredibly excited for this year’s Pride. Hence, you can imagine my disappointment when - days before the event - the organisers took to their Instagram to clarify queries by attendants, and in the process, essentially banned any sort of political poster or slogan from their march.
Whether Pride is a protest or a celebration has been debated for quite some time now. But what queer people criticizing the Mumbai Pride organisers want you to know is this: Irrespective of whether it’s deemed as a protest, a celebration or both (which it is, in most cases), Pride - at its crux - is political.
In light of the organisers facing backlash from queer folks all across the nation, The Quint speaks to three LGBTQIA+ Indians as they reflect on the politics of queerness and why for them, Pride will always remain political.
"The Very First Pride Was A Protest"
For Suranjana, a 24-year-old doctor from Kolkata, organizers banning political discourse from Pride marches makes them feel "extremely unheard".
They respond, "Pride is not an event for taking pictures and putting them up on social media, it is a protest. So when the political slogans are banned from Pride, it makes me feel that the very fight gets completely cancelled and overlooked."
The very first Pride was a protest by two transgender women, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Pride has always been a protest to establish our identity and a fight for our basic human rights.SURANJANA [SHE/THEY/HE]
On being asked what Pride means to her, Suranjana answers, "I consider a person queer, not based on the pronouns they use or the person they sleep with, but based on the their political lens."
She explains how by that, she means how inclusive a person's politics is. That lens can be judged "not only with their words but also with their actions, their urge to form a community and to stand by the people of the community."
For him, Pride is "a struggle for rights to live; it is non-conformity to the social structure and Pride means to break this structure in as many ways as possible." He adds, "Thus I believe being queer is extremely political and so is Pride."
Whenever a person tries to detach themself from politics, it roots from two factors. Either they are okay with whatever the state is providing or their bubble of privilege blinds them from noticing how limiting the state is. I think, queer people who don't want to call Pride a political movement are too privileged to realize how meaningless Pride is without its politics.SURANJANA [SHE/THEY/HE]
(Suranjana uses she/they/he pronouns)
"A General Trend With Identity Politics"
When Baidurya Chakrabarti, a 39-year-old professor from Pune discovered the ban of political posters, they were disappointed but not surprised.
They explain, "It's been happening for a long time, for instance the QAM (Queer Azadi March) incident in 2020. Even in academia, we have a whole discussion on 'homo-hindutva'. We also know that Pride has been getting more and more commodified, so it's also a kind of commodity attraction. This kind of appropriation has been there for a long time".
"Since I'm an academic", they pause, "I'm supposed to look at the larger picture. This is actually a general trend with identity politics, especially in a country like India."
Baidurya elaborates on how Identity politics become, for all sorts of complex reasons, very law-centric. He asks, "The question of social and political becomes a legal concept and once that legal question is solved, what happens then?"
Increasing number of people are like, 'Section 377 is gone. We are accepted so why politics anymore?' That's a question that has to be faced...It's overwhelmingly been about the legal recognition and nothing around social or political recognition.DR BAIDURY CHAKRABARTI (HE/THEY)
Baidurya also posits various reasons why people, often within the LGBTQIA+ community, detach themselves from the politics of queerness.
They explain how there is a "certain kind of danger involved, physical and otherwise, to be political in a concrete, street-level sense. You need to commit to possibilities where you may be exposed to danger, to police arrests. You'll need to actively embrace the precarity of being on the road, facing negative reactions and critique...it takes a lot of commitment. "
They also stress on how "being political" is neither nice nor enjoyable, and it often is inherent.
Sometimes people are in such socio-economic or cultural positions or are in such precarious situations that it's (political struggle) every day for them. To be under police attack...I mean, if you talk to people from the Hijra community, it's their daily life, they don't have time to think about these things.DR Baidurya Chakrabarti (HE/THEY)
But, that is exactly why politicization is essential, says Baidurya. For him, Pride marches are the epitome of politics for one simple reason. "Politics is, by definition, either a question of asking for choice or resisting."
So the fundamental definition of politics is that you come down on the roads, you say "This is who I am and you have to accept me." That's what politics is, right? If you look at the Labour movement, that's the same thing. That's why it's inherently political. How do you even use the word intersectionality and not talk about politics?DR BAIDURY CHAKRABARTI (HE/THEY)
(Baidurya Chakrabarti uses he/they pronouns)
"Politics Makes People Uncomfortable"
When Nainika, a 28-year-old digital creator and writer from Mumbai, came across the organizer's ban, her first reaction was to roll her eyes. "Saying you can’t bring political posters to a march that is based on demanding civil rights for queer people?" she questions.
She elaborates, "Pride is, and always has been, inherently political. The ban is ludicrous, and speaks of an organizing team who doesn’t have the faintest idea about the origins and true meaning of Pride."
To many, Pride comes across as simply a colourful celebration. It is a celebration—of the innumerable battles queer people have fought to be treated like human beings, and continue to fight in a society where they are still viewed as taboo, as outsiders, as sinners and degenerates. The history of Pride is rooted in protest.NAINIKA [SHE/HER]
Like Suranjana, Nainika also believes that the reason queer people often distance themselves from politics is two-fold, with privilege at its core. She reasons, "For a lot of LGBTQIA+ folks with other forms of privilege, specifically in terms of caste and economic status, their privilege trumps their loyalty to the cause."
She explains how for cisgender gay folks with privilege, it's enough "as long as there’s a basic level of acceptance. There’s no need to rock the boat." She further adds, "I think they do know at some level that Pride is political, but are happy to ignore it".
Nainika further sheds light on the discomfort of politics and how for scores of queer folk, a comfortable assimilation into the mainstream is the way to go.
Making something political means making people uncomfortable. A lot of LGBTQIA+ folks think that the way to societal acceptance is to make things as palatable as possible for cisgender, heterosexual folks, and watering down the "controversial" aspects of Pride is part of that.NAINIKA [SHE/HER]
(Nainika uses she/her pronouns)