07/12/2014 1:36 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

Celebrating Dissent: You Call Us Illegal and Unnatural But We Celebrate It

Participants gather for the 5th Delhi Queer Pride parade in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Hundreds of gay rights activists marched through New Delhi on Sunday to demand that they be allowed to lead lives of dignity in India's deeply conservative society.(AP Photo/ Mustafa Quraishi)

Last Sunday, Delhi celebrated its first queer pride nearly a year after the Supreme Court in India recriminalized homosexuality. This judgment, possibly one of the most regressive in India's judicial history, termed India's significant LGBT population as minuscule and their right to love unimportant.

Yet for thousands of us, walking in this pride was about celebrating dissent -- combining protest and celebration. Many of us grew up in an India where the idea of being a "legal" homosexual was itself a distant dream. We suffered years of persecution, we struggled, and we fought, and refused to give up. Until the inclusive Shah judgment, which made us equal citizens giving us the right to love and exist without fear.

A law does not change society overnight but it does help facilitate a culture of acceptance. This process had only just begun when infuriatingly, in 2013, India's Supreme Court took away this equality and freedom on the basis of flimsy and untenable arguments, and possibly to please an incoming majoritarian government.

Despite recording our protest and anger, this celebration of dissent was also comforting. This was possibly one of the largest, most energetic and engaged pride marches. Filled with old and new friends, families, walked in solidarity amid the densely packed crowd, shouting slogans carrying placards -- in pride and in protest. I met many first timers -- wearing masks, still fearful though hopeful, and walking in solidarity with their own. Some others wore masks as a sign of protest -- a reminder of a law that forces them to hide themselves.

One of them was someone whom I hadn't seen in many years. He hugged me spontaneously and without prelude said -- I should have come here before. Why didn't he? Perhaps because like everyone else he had for so long lived in a climate of fear, self-hatred and denial -- he couldn't dare. Yet walking this short distance liberated him, as a few hundred yards ahead he took his mask off.

When I walked my first gay pride in London or multiple ones in New York City later, it was easy to miss the discrimination that exists for gay people in these countries. Luckily progressive laws and continuous efforts have in some parts of the world helped change social attitudes and created an atmosphere of acceptance. Yet, right wingers and religious zealots, continue to harass, persecute and stigmatize sexual minorities even there. Many continue to suffer, stuck in closets, pretending to be someone else.

Experiences globally point to the deeply troubling issue of sexual minorities in a global, social, political, legal and economic framework that minimizes their rights as human beings and citizens. The right to love freely and openly without fear is the most fundamental human right. However, many countries, including India, continue to deny their sexual minorities these rights.

What does it mean to be gay, wearing a mask, living in an India that promises us acche din, smart cities, bullet trains but no freedom? What is this new concept of development that is so much at odds with every conceptual artifact of human rights, democracy or being Indian? More importantly, what kind of dialogue is available for those that seek change, in law, in society, and in a legislature where the members seem keener to teach a diverse India about Ram than addressing the fundamental problems of India?

Yet even with these troubling questions in our minds, we continued with our celebration, happy, resolute and determined. These issues did not dampen either our spirits or our pride, our resolve to fight, or our ability to laugh. The evening culminated in poetry, performances and speeches. We hung around Jantar Mantar drinking tea, tired but unable to tear ourselves away from this evening of celebration. There were moments of mirth and of compassion. We dismissed with sarcasm the ridiculousness of Ramdev and his cure theories. Most importantly, we celebrated dissent, by reiterating our right to love, light and freedom in a country which continues to term us illegal and our right to love unnatural.

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