Dear Friends and Colleagues
Calcutta queer folks Rainbow Pride Walked again, and it was more special than before as our friends in Delhi and Bangalore joined us in simultaneous pride festivities. Added to that, there were friends from Gujarat (easily the most musical group of people!), Mumbai, Orissa and people visiting from the US and other places joining in.
Anis' baritone "We Shall Overcome" all through the walk would have woken up the Municipal Corporation officers had he used a microphone . . . and if Macaulay's spirit still hangs around in Calcutta (nor sure if he ever came here though), then the cries for packing off Section 377 would surely have made him catch the nearest barge on Hooghly to London. Yes, we know Section 377's meant to be read down, but ultimately it has to 1 2 3 4 - Section 377 No More, or Ek Do Teen Char, Band Karo Ye Atyachar. Keeping company to these slogans were beautifully done posters designed at an event as the first activity of the pride week.
The Calcutta march count numbers differ, ranging from 200-400, but what was special was the public meeting at the end of the walk opposite Metro Cinema in Esplanade. The walk route was a little empty, it being a late Sunday afternoon, but the evening crowd of nearly a 100 onlookers at Esplanade made up for that. Public speeches by activists and artists, personal narratives by people who've faced violence and have survived - it was amazing how nobody was shy of speaking their heart out to the public at large and the police force present there. Somebody quipped that the police were having a Sunday off as they probably have never seen a more emotional and yet disciplined lot of revellers and protestors! Some police officials said they were there to support us, so we shall see how true that is in days to come.
A sample of 15 interviews conducted by a TV channel journalist with onlookers lead to a surprising near 100% support for queer rights. That apart media interest was reasonably good with some channels beaming the walk live, and it was good that there were at least a few new situations that they covered. For instance, a gay walker and his brother who's not gay were interviewed together. I also found questions asked at a TV talk show later in the evening well thought out and with background research done. Newspaper interest was low, though e-zines seem to have already done a fair share of reporting.
Perhaps it was because other cities had joined in, but I've never had to talk so often about the 1st Friendship Walk in 1999 to so many people. Owais, Ranjan, Ashok, Nitin, Navarun and others, if you're reading this, I hope you remember what it was like to have walked the very first time in bright yellow t-shirts, visiting friends and detractors, and wading through knee deep blessings from the skies. Not so long ago and yet quite some time ago. And not the least being the cameo walk in the narrow lane outside George Bhawan (that room full of portraits of Indian freedom fighters juxtaposed with Stalin's kin) - to provide a photo op to the dozens of journalists gathered there :))
Two other special occasions during the week: Lighting candles in the rain at Kandapara in memory of friends we've lost to violence, HIV and abuse, and the lively panel discussion during the film screenings event on the 28th in Paribesh Bhawan - individuals among the 100 odd people talked just as well as the speakers and the most touching part being parents expressing support for a change in our laws.
There will be a review that will follow, and yes, I agree with some friends that in the 7th year we could have done much better in terms of walk discipline, slogans and media interaction. Actually I'm glad that some of us are more ambitious and that will hopefully pull us all up to do better. For instance, there was a Citizens Peace Initiative event on in the city at the same time as the Pride Week. Very pertinent for queer communities, and I hope we can interact with the organizers and request that a clash be avoided next year so that there can be greater cross participation, and so peace also gets a chance to spill over into the streets where many queer people are perhaps at their most vulnerable.
Having said that, I can say some of us tried hard to get in larger civil society participation but did not succeed very well. Perhaps we did not do it well, perhaps the people invited are yet to realize the value of pride activities because they have their own reservations to deal with. All said and done, I feel rejuvenated with this year's Pride Walk. That's also what the doctor ordered.
Looking forward to sharing of photos and reports from other cities, and the hearings against the Section 377 PIL in court in Delhi. I hope we've provided the right support to the action in court!!
Regards and best wishes
In pride and solidarity
Calcutta, West Bengal