In a historic judgement by the Delhi High Court in July 2009, the 150-year old article that prohibited ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ was revised to decriminalise same-sex relationships between consenting adults. Yet this landmark victory has done little to change perceptions of the LGBT community in Hyderabad over the last three years.
Alternative sexuality is still widely perceived to be a mental disorder. Cases of young men being sent to asylums and subjected to electric-shock therapy or anti-psychotic medication are disturbingly common. Alternatively, homosexuality is denied and blamed on cultural influences. One ‘extremely disappointed father’ told the Indian Express recently, that his son has been ‘corrupted’ and is now ‘living in the assumption that he might be gay’. The complete lack of recognition for the LGBT community in India was epitomised by a Home Ministry release last year that challenged the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships as ‘highly immoral and against the social order’.
It was against this backdrop of misunderstanding and prejudice that hundreds of people gathered on Sunday to celebrate Hyderabad’s first ever ‘Queer Pride’. After four years of protracted negotiations with metropolitan authorities, the occasion of people being ‘allowed’ to gather in support of queer rights was an achievement in itself. In a city that has no trouble in hosting political demonstrations courtesy of the Tellangana movement on what seems like a weekly basis, it is indicative of prevailing attitudes that organisers faced so many obstacles to the parade. And though the persistent lobbying finally succeeded, the fact that the police dismissed the band on the grounds that people had permission ‘to rally but not to sing’ – this in a country that celebrates the majority of religious and cultural festivals with musical processions – was further evidence of the widespread refusal to recognise the LGBT community in Hyderabad.
On the day, past frustrations and struggles were forgotten, as the combined efforts of over 40 organisations working for LGBT rights and the visible support of several major corporations, including facebook and Google, prevailed in organising a hugely successful event. The backing of major international companies was particularly important for a community that is regularly on the receiving end of discrimination in the workplace, with employers citing a whole host of reasons for sacking employees upon discovering their sexuality. By conveying the message inscribed onto placards that ‘Lesbians and Gays too make good bosses’, perhaps these corporations can lead by example in instituting greater equality.
Although only 300 of an estimated 50,000 people of alternative sexuality in Hyderabad joined the rally, the opportunity for people to express and celebrate their identity can be viewed as a landmark victory for a community that has been marginalised by mainstream society for so long. Although only a small percentage of the LGBT community, demonstrators delivered a key message that people are not alone and their sexuality is not ‘unnatural’.
The event was strategically organised for wide exposure to a populace that displays a critical lack of awareness about sexuality. Marching down a 2-mile stretch on Necklace Road, alongside Husain Sagar – a popular hang-out despite the stench of Hyderabad’s central lake – the colourful parade attracted the attention of bystanders; led by a horse-drawn chariot, participants carried placards and flags, raised slogans, and somehow managed to acquire several camels along the way. Culminating at the People’s Plaza, live performances drew in scores more people to the event.
The message was, sadly, not well-received by all: several people who asked what was going on laughed or turned away in disgust; there may be others who left the Plaza after a series of increasingly provocative dances, believing that transsexual entertainment is the only meaningful expression of the LGBT community. (Although, perhaps the relative visibility of hijra and other communities that do not fall clearly within the LGBT category is one of the reasons that the organisers used the more inclusive label, Queer Pride, over the commonly-used Gay Pride). Yet any negativity is superseded by the weight of Sunday’s triumph: for the first time, the people of Hyderabad are talking about queer rights.
A cursory glance at this morning’s newspapers confirms its impact. Despite at times revealing subconscious stereotypes and implying that only queer people support queer rights – they must have missed the placard, ‘Straight but not Narrow: We support our gay brothers and sisters’ – the rally received wide and positive coverage. Doubtless many still reject claims to equality from a ‘moral’ standpoint, and support for the community in Hyderabad is not yet as visible as in Delhi or Mumbai, but this is a decisive moment for the city’s queer community.
Walking away from the People’s Plaza on Sunday evening, gratified by the feeling of inclusivity, I was handed a pamphlet. I reached home and read the publicity circulated by Hyderabad Organized for Moral Environment [sic] – ‘The Uncensored Truth about Homosexuality’. The contemptible document expounded a thoroughly misguided moral philosophy, supported by wildly irresponsible manipulation of statistics, to vilify the gay community for ‘polluting’ the ‘values’ of the ‘Beautiful Country called INDIA’.
The pamphlet was a sad reminder of the ingrained prejudice that prevails in many quarters. There is a long way to go before LGBTs in Hyderabad, India and the world succeed in reversing such reactionary, bigoted judgement. Yet Hyderabad Queer Pride 2013 should be viewed as a significant victory for equality; hopefully it is a platform for education, increased awareness and, ultimately, acceptance for the 50,000 LGBTs in the city.
Written by Ben Thurman
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