I’ve seen lots of spectacular rainbows, but have only ever been inside two. The first time was a few weeks ago, when the aircraft I was sitting in flew right through one. My window turned pink and indigo and yellow and green as the Alps drifted by on the other side; the whole thing was so magical that it almost made up for the horrible in-flight service, which consisted of stale chocolate wrapped in soccer-ball foil.
The second time was last weekend, in Connaught Place, when Delhi’s first-ever Queer Pride parade took place. Along and behind an enormous rainbow flag that is the international symbol of alternative sexuality, marched a few hundred people—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and supportive straights like myself—waving rainbow flags, carrying rainbow signs, and wearing rainbow face paint or rainbow masks.
Given that the average Delhi-ite is given to hissing “Indira Gandhi is out of Parliament!” to mean “Your bra strap is showing—step this way and kill yourself for shame”, the fact that Pride happened this year, and without incident, is a huge step for the city’s gay community. A rainbow-coloured friend had snorted that “We’ve been issued the standard NGO-type low-visibility route [from the Intercontinental hotel to Jantar Mantar],” but as it happened, the two-kilometre walk was anything but quiet: thumping drums, screaming cheers, booming slogans and a lot of self-affirming whistles and hoots made for a happily raucous procession.
The signs read ‘Down With Section 377’ and ‘Heterosexuality Is Not Normal, It’s Common’ and ‘Happy Homosexual’ and ‘Not All Females Are Women’ and ‘Proud To Be Lesbian’. Some people, including one friend who had threatened to come as a seahorse in heels, turned up in jeans and t-shirts; others were flamboyantly sequinned and glittered and eye-shadowed and bejewelled. The self-appointed Guardians of Indian Culture, some of whom were expected to show up in their knickers and prejudices, had stayed home, possibly in their closets. To everyone’s delight, some citizens who encountered the parade asked for a mask (which organisers had made available), so that they could join in without fear. Passersby on buses leaned out with their cameras, befuddled but interested. The cops escorting the march tried to look as bored as they could, and mostly managed not to giggle. I suppose it’s hard to resist a few friendly jokes (“Can I have a drag of your fag?” “Sure, take a poof.”).
There was a particularly happy little cluster around a sign that read ‘Proud to be Bisexual’. Queer Pride is a particularly good day for bisexuals, who are spend their lives caught between a rock and a hard place, seen as deviant by the straight community and waffling or indecisive by the gay community. A man-woman couple, both lapsed homosexuals, groused that erstwhile friends in the gay community wouldn’t talk to them now that they were seeing each other—which, if you think about it, is a pretty progressive kind of discrimination in a city like Delhi.
A few parents marched in support of their ‘out’ children. Most participants didn’t feel the need to conceal their identities, but as the organisers said at the concluding speeches, they were also marching for everyone who isn’t yet ready to come out, for everyone who cannot, and for everyone who chose suicide over oppression. A woman who is out to her friends but not her family, wondered whether or not it was time to tell her mother about her sexuality. “She might have to go on a cruise to relax a bit after that,” she said sardonically.
The five hundred souls who marched last Sunday are the very tiny little tip of an enormous iceberg; hopefully, when Queer Pride 2014 rolls around, they won’t need the signs saying ‘Drop 377’ anymore.