sparkling saris, women wore rainbow boas, and hundreds of
people chanted for gay rights in three Indian cities
Sunday in the largest display of gay pride in the
deeply conservative country where homosexual acts are
supporters took to the streets of Calcutta, Bangalore, and
New Delhi to call for an end to discrimination and
push for acceptance in a society where intolerance is
"This is a
national coming-out party," said Alok Gupta, a lawyer
from Mumbai, as he stood among several hundred activists in
New Delhi. "This is a simple thing: We are seeking the
right to love."
groups have marched in the eastern city of Calcutta in
recent years, Sunday's events were the first gay pride
parades in Bangalore and New Delhi. Several hundred
people turned out at each of the three events.
The marches came
days before the Delhi High Court is expected to hear
arguments on overturning a law against homosexual sex that
dates to the British colonial era. The law, which
forbids sexual acts "against the order of nature,"
carries punishment of up to 10 years in prison.
The law is rarely
enforced, but activists say it sanctions
is widespread because there is no protection or law or
societal understanding," said Lesley Esteves, 32, a gay
rights activist who helped organize the New Delhi
parade. "There's discrimination in the workplace;
there's discrimination in the family -- it's on every
festive mood Sunday, fear of discrimination was evident
among the crowds in New Delhi. Many of the marchers
wore rainbow-colored masks so their friends and
families wouldn't know they were gay. Many others
declined to speak to journalists.
were happy to announce themselves to the public. I want
people to see us, to talk to us, to become acquainted with
who we are and how we feel," said Kangan Ratra, a
lesbian in New Delhi. "The first step is to see us.
The next step is to understand us."
The protests in
all three cities were peaceful, though the number of
police and journalists likely matched that of the marchers.
Naqvi, a senior leader of India's nationalist Bharatiya
Janata party, said he opposed the gay activists' march and
called homosexuality "unnatural."
"I don't think it
will be accepted in our country. Most of the people
are traditional people, religious people, and it will not be
accepted in Indian culture," Naqvi said. He noted that
BJP supporters did not protest the march because "we
are not going to give importance to such behavior."
Still, there are
signs that homosexuality is becoming more accepted in
India, at least in big cities. In New Delhi, gay and lesbian
groups hold biweekly movie screenings and parties, and
organizers say attendance is rising. Newspaper
editorials have called for revisions to the law, and
prominent writers and activists have signed petitions
expressing their support. (Sam Dolnick AP)