Special – 29/6, The Day Delhi Came Out
Interview with Lesley Esteves, of Delhi Queer Pride Committee.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi; picture courtesy – AFP]
June 29, 2008 was a big day for gay Delhi. In a country where the existence of this community is not even acknowledged and where consensual homosexual sex is an illegal act punishable by imprisonment, a gay pride parade marched through its heart and ended in its Tiananmen Square – the Jantar Mantar.
The Delhi Walla talked to Ms. Lesley Esteves, queer activist and one of the key organisers of Delhi’s first gay pride parade.
San Francisco’s Castro Street came to Jantar Mantar. More than 1000 people in Delhi’s first gay parade! Did you imagine such an unprecedented crowd?
I had hoped for 200, would have settled for 150. But the crowd exceeded my most optimistic expectations – maybe 10 times over!
This is a city where being openly gay remains a distant dream for many. Just what prompted the city’s sexual minority to walk so openly in the capital’s streets? Were all fears gone?
We marched for the people for whom being openly gay remains a dream. We marched to let them know, yes it is a crime to have gay sex in India, but it is not a crime to be gay. We marched to let them know our existence is not criminalised, and that’s why we are out on the streets to proclaim we are proud of our difference and should not be criminalised for it.
Ms. Esteves, just how you folks planned the parade? Were you apprehensive of any possible trouble from any quarters?
About 40 of us queer individuals got together to plan, execute and organise the pride. There was incredible energy and enthusiasm among us, a sense of excitement that we were about to make history. And we all did, everyone who marched made history.
We, the organisers, were mildly apprehensive only because the police were warning us that we could be attacked by a right wing political outfit. But we told them that it is their duty to protect us. And we decided, even if we are attacked, we would not respond with violence and we would do our best to continue marching. We waved the apprehensions away and they proved to be unfounded. All we found on the streets was immense support.
What was the response of passers-by?
There was a lot of curiosity from the moment we began. Some joined the march for part of the way. Most asked us what the issue was. The response was mixed but friendly in all cases.
Your happiest moment during the parade?
There were many. I was so proud to march at the head of the flag alongside artist Sunil Gupta who was wearing his HIV Positive T-shirt. He is a hero to so many of us.
And when we were crossing Janpath, I turned around and saw for the first time the sheer number of people who were marching along with us. I saw my relatives, my colleagues, my straight friends. I was blown away and so proud of Delhi. But the best moment was when I got an SMS from my father congratulating me on a good show. It meant the world to me.
Any nervous moment?
None. Not a moment of nerves. I think it is true not just for me but for all of us that we marched with supreme confidence which came from the belief that it is no longer a question of if, but when, homosexuality will be decriminalised in India.
Will the parade be an annual feature now?
We will have a national parade every year henceforth. And as activist Ashok Row Kavi said, “every year there will be more Indian cities joining in”.
A 2-minute silence was observed for the “victims of 377”. Do you really think this law will be abolished anytime soon?
The call that rose yesterday from Delhi, Kolkata and Bengaluru was crystal clear – 377 has to go now. If India wants to be true to its claim of being a democracy that respects human rights, India should decriminalise consensual same-sex as soon as possible and further, introduce anti-discriminatory legislation on grounds of sexual orientation.
How did you celebrate the success of the parade?
We partied till 3 am. Mayank, I can tell you that after 29/6, there is a fabulously open gay life on the streets of Delhi. I am now so proud of my city.
Thank you, Ms. Esteves.
You’re welcome, mayank