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Kolkata Rainbow Pride 2016 is proudly concluded. [More Info…]
Every year around December (till 2014 it was late June or early July), Kolkata sees an annual event called the ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’. The rainbow here is a symbol of diversity in gender identity, sexual orientation or any other aspect of gender and sexuality.
|Photo credit: Koel Chatterjee|
Gender identity is about one’s innermost sense of self as a man, woman, both or neither, and it may differ from one’s biological sex (which may be male, female or even intersexed). Thus, for example, a biologically male person may identify as a woman. So other than men and women, there are also trans-gender people in society.
Sexual orientation is about the nature of one’s sexual and romantic attraction – which biological sex or gender one is attracted to. For example, it is not necessary that a woman may be attracted only to men (heterosexual orientation). She may be attracted only to other women (homosexual orientation) or to men and women (bisexual orientation) and so on.
|Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta|
The ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ is a coming together of people of different genders and sexualities – male-to-female or female-to-male trans persons, Hijras, Kothis, gay men, bisexual men and women, lesbians – often collectively called queer (a political term associated with sexual and human rights).
But the walk is not just for queer people. It is also for their supporters, for heterosexual or straight men and women . . . for parents, friends and colleagues of queer people . . . in fact, for all those who want to protest society’s restrictive gender and sexual norms . . . rigid rules that lead to unjustified stigma, discrimination, violence and criminalization of people who transgress these norms and who are deemed The walk is also about celebration. It honours the efforts made by queer people over the years, across the world and in India to fight for their dignity and rights. For example, the ‘Stonewall Riots’, a landmark event that took place June 27-29, 1969 in New York, USA. They occurred in protest by transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual people against police harassment that was a daily feature of their lives in those days. The riots sparked off what can be said to be the modern movement for queer rights in the West.The walkers question what is normal? Who decides what is normal? What is the link between a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation and their worth as a human being or a responsible citizen? Why should sex only be for procreation? Is it also not about pleasure and self-fulfillment? If yes, then why should it be restricted to heterosexual people? Why should people with non-normative sexualities be criminalized?
|Photo credit: Arunabha Hazra|
The Indian queer movement that took its first steps in the early 1990s, though not condoning violence, draws moral strength from the ‘Stonewall Riots’ event. The walk is also a big occasion for the movement to mark the Delhi High Court ruling of July 2, 2009 that declared Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional on grounds that it unjustifiably criminalized queer people. The court was responding to a public interest litigation filed by NGO Naz Foundation (India) Trust in 2001 and supported by co-petitioners like Voices Against 377.
Though the Indian government did not challenge Delhi High Court’s ruling, it was opposed by a number of religious outfits in the Supreme Court on grounds of social morality. Petitions also in support of the ruling were filed by several parents of queer people across India and mental health professionals (modern medical and psychiatric opinion is firmly against looking at homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender phenomena as diseases or linked to any crime). A final verdict from the Supreme Court is still awaited.
The participation in the walk cuts across social classes and is not limited to Kolkata dwellers. People from all over West Bengal, other parts of India and abroad also participate. The ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ also believes in building bridges with other human rights movements. This year the theme of the walk was “Yes to Rainbow Pride, No to Violence!” The objective was to express solidarity with the movement to fight sexual violence against women and girls.
|Photo credit: Nilanjan Majumder|
The ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ is the oldest of its kind in not just India, but South Asia as well. The first Kolkata walk was organized on July 2, 1999 when only 15 people participated. Since 2008, the Kolkata walk has also inspired similar initiatives in more than a dozen towns and cities as diverse as Bangalore, Berhampore, Bhawanipatna, Bhubaneswar, Chandannagar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Coimbatore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Madurai, Mumbai, Patna, Pune and Thrissur. The first of the pride walks in the world were held in various cities in USA in late June 1970 to mark the first anniversary of the ‘Stonewall Riots’.
At the core of the ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ initiative is the message that the march is not a call for special rights for queer people. It is simply about the human rights of queer people – human rights for one and all!
Photos: Varta Trust & others.