Always the Outsider at London Pride, Delhi Made Me Feel at Home
“Do I leave India because I am queer? Or do I leave the UK because I am an immigrant of colour?”
In the middle of the grey and the rain common in the UK, summers are a delight. In the five years that I lived there, I would always hold out hope for the British summer. And right in the middle of summer, there was London Pride. The quiet and the dull would transform into noise, crowd and bursts of rainbows.
I remember looking at the sea of people swarming around on Oxford Street, with my sister during my first London Pride. She seemed to get really sad about it. She said, here there was proof that she had never been an anomaly – despite what teachers and our parents told her growing up. Here, there was everything she didn’t find back home in India.
Now, I am back home in India. Finally. And my first pride here is right after the historic Supreme Court verdict. It’s almost like a movie, na?
I loved London Pride till I became more aware of my identity and the skin I live in. I became more aware of the many ways I continued to be seen as an outsider. This subjective feeling is evidenced by London Pride’s advisory board’s findings that it is not inclusive enough of minority communities. Pride organisers disagreed with this study, following which it has been boycotted by Stonewall, the largest LGBT+ charity in the UK.
This year, in the first Pride I missed, the march was led by anti-transgender protesters without interruption. Pride organisers have apologised since.
Of course, Delhi Pride was warmer on my skin than London’s. Of course, my sari did not mark me out as alien territory. But you see, here I am no more one of those silenced on the sidelines. Here, I can occupy the centre of the narrative with a lot more ease. I can’t possibly tell you if Delhi Pride is inclusive, with the same authority as about London Pride.
Rajender Parihar, a Delhi University professor from a Dalit background, and a regular attendee of the Delhi Pride can. Parihar says that traditionally, the space has been dominated by privileged caste, cisgender gay men. But recently, after many debates, there have been increased efforts to make Delhi Pride more intersectional. And three years ago, a Dalit queer person got on the stage and spoke to the crowd for the first time.
Shivangi Agrawal is a disabled and queer activist, and one of about 300 members of the Delhi Queer Pride organising committee. "Anyone can join the committee. Just come attend a meeting, and you will be part of the Google groups. And then you can send emails and have conversations, and be part of what is happening,” she says.
Agrawal says that this was the first time in ten years that the stage was made wheelchair-accessible. And that although things aren’t perfect right now, everyone is working towards a more inclusive Pride.
“It (the committee) is very inclusive, I think. We need a lot more hijra and kinnar representation. And more transgender representation, generally. But we’re constantly working to become more inclusive.”Shivangi Agrawal
Already after one brush with the Delhi event, it seems to be a far more democratic process than the one I have witnessed in London.
Activist Noor Enayat’s speech on stage covered everything from a need for gender-neutral rape laws to a call for abolishing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts. “Do you know what AFSPA does?” She asked an enthusiastic crowd that responded in reverberating hoots and claps.
Parihar says that intersectionality is at the core of Pride. “Solidarity is important. We are all more powerful together.”
It reminds me of the fact that lesbians and gays in the UK raised money for miners’ families in 1984 during the British miners’ strike. In the 2014 movie ‘Pride’ based on the event, the gay protagonist says it was because miners were hated as much as homosexuals then.
In my last London Pride, I was decked out in a sari and didn’t have rainbow flags or paint. So, of course, a fellow Pride-goer asked me if I were a tourist.
The joy really left the parade for me when a group sloganeered about the imprisonment of queer people worldwide. The focus is always outwards, never inwards.
It is never about queer asylum seekers being held in UK detention centres in abysmal conditions indefinitely, and being asked to prove their sexuality in courts. It is never about queers of colour being refused entry to queer clubs in London because apparently, we don’t look queer enough.
And why are conversations about queer people in Asian, African and South American countries always about imprisonment and persecution? What about the rich and diverse culture of queerness that existed in these places, and is now history thanks to colonialism?
So, yes, the ‘white saviour’ approach to queer struggles in spaces like London Pride exhausts me.
However, there are memories I deeply cherish. One of the years, I had worn a salwar kameez and painted rainbows on my cheeks. A white trans woman kept telling me that she loved my attire. She first saw it worn by her South Asian boss’ daughters at some party. She just thought they were so beautiful. And she felt so isolated from that beauty because you see, she hadn’t come out to the world yet. Those girls in their beautiful salwar kameezes made her finally tell the world who she was – in an effort to come into her own beauty.
In my five years in the UK, I grappled with my contesting identities. Do I leave India because I am queer? Or do I leave the UK because I am an immigrant of colour?
It is now legal to be me in my home.
I spent the evening with people I had never met before and I look forward to meeting again. It reminded of something Siddharth Gautam told one of his friends in 1991. Gautam was one of the founders of AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan, a Delhi-based organisation largely credited with beginning the struggle for LGBTQ equal rights in India. He had said:
“Stay in America for your education and your career if you need to. You don’t have to stay away because you are gay. Things will change here. Believe me.”Siddharth Gautam, as quoted by Sandip Roy in The New York Times.
I believe things are changing.
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