Mumbai: A colourful mass of people marched through the streets of Gamdevi in South Mumbai on Saturday afternoon in Mumbai's first Pride March in four years. As diverse as the colours in the attires of the participants were the gender identities with which they identified with.
Mayuri Saavi, an independent journalist who was dressed conventionally in a cream-coloured sari, called herself gender fluid. Saavi, whose first participation in a Pride March had been around eight years ago, said that though there has been some changes in the way queer people are accepted by society, there was still a long way to go before they became equal members of thecommunit. "There is still a lot of misrepresentation about the community, especially in films. Nothing much seems to have changed since then, but many young people now understand how sexuality works. They are more confident than I was when I was a teenager," said Saavi.
Many participants were happy to take part in an event which was held after a four-year break imposed by covid and political problems. Sailesh Ghelani, who was marching with a group of friends, has been a regular participant in Pride Marches. "It was sad that we were confined to a ground and not allowed to march in the past years. It is important to be visible and show your support," said Geelani who added that there was more diversity in the participants than ever before. "There are people of all ages. There are parents who are supporting their children, and their boyfriends and girlfriends, so that they do not go into the trauma of being in the closet," said Geelani.
Marchers agreed that there was more acceptance of their gender identities
Many marchers agreed that there was more acceptance of their gender identities. Balaji, who identified himself as a transperson, said he was happy to walk in the Pride March as he had come out as a transperson last year. "There were stages in the acceptance of my identity. I came out as a gay person seven years ago and my parents accepted it. We are a happy family," said Balaji who is a talent management consultant.
Anand Pendharkar, a wildlife biologist and a member of Mumbai Queer Pride Collective, has been taking part in the annual event for the last 10 years. He said that as a scientist he has observed that nearly 1700 species of animals exhibited homosexual behavior. "This shows that homosexuality is natural," said Pendharkar who was vocal about the Supreme Court order on same-sex marriages and adoption by gay couples. "I thought it was too premature to go to the courts for marriage rights. We could have asked for cohabitation or partnerships instead of demanding marriage rights. Why replicate a system that is not doing well in the first place," added Pendharkar.
Participants shouted 'Happy Pride' to each other.
Participants shouted 'Happy Pride' to each other. Many carried placards.Sumit Pawar, who was carrying a banner that said 'Love who you are', said, "I want to tell people that the LGBTQ community is everywhere - in your colleges, in your workplaces, and in your neighborhoods. Let them live the life they want. We live in a free country," said Pawar.
As the marchers made their way through the roads, hemmed in by police personnel who guided them through the heavy vehicular traffic, there were volunteers with sacks, collecting trash thrown by some marchers. There were makeshift stands offering free drinking water to participants dehydrated on an unusually hot February day. Vatsal Khandelwal offered free hugs to everyone. "Because free hugs are for everybody, irrespective of their sexual preferences. Do not discriminate; increase happiness for everybody," Khandelwal explained.
Foreign residents, too, joined the march
Foreign residents, too, joined the march. Demian Quesnel, a resident of San Francisco, United States, said that the Pride March reminded him of his youth. "I had first participated in a march in Hollywood in 1970,' said Quesnel who added that he was visiting Pune when he heard about the Mumbai Pride March. Quesnel, who retired from the information technology industry, said that work and leisure has brought him to India many times during the last four decades. "I have been observing the gay life scene and how it has been changing. There is still a long way to go. Many people I meet are still afraid to be seen in public," said Quesnel.
Many participants espoused causes which they thought was allied to gay rights. Susmit P, a student of sociology, was carrying a picture of BR Ambedkar, the architect of India's Construction and a Dalit figure head. "Everybody is trying to get out of of societal constraints," he said, explaining his decision to talk about caste and class discrimination. "Nobody is free unless everybody is free. We stand for freedom for everyone in the world," he added.
Marchers promoted other causes too
Marchers promoted other causes too. Abhishek Goswami was carrying a placard that said ' Everyone deserves love and compassion'. He said that he was promoting veganism, which rejects all food of animal origin, as a dietary idea. "Just like fellow humans should not be exploited or abused, whether knowingly or otherwise, animals too have their rights," said Goswami.
The march, which began from the August Kranti Maidan at 3.00 pm was supposed to end at Girgaum Chowpatty, but marchers were directed to turn right just before its destination so that the event ended at the starting point.