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Walking with pride, gays in Capital denounce Article 377

It was to be a small step by Delhi’s gay community, but Sunday evening’s Queer Pride, the first in the Capital, soon turned into a march for freedom. Over 450 members of the community — bisexuals, transgenders, gays and lesbians — walked down Tolstoy Marg towards Jantar Mantar screaming out slogans to denounce Article 377 which criminalises homosexuality in India. Similar marches were simultaneously being held in Kolkata and Bengaluru. Article 377 is currently being debated in court and the verdict will be an important landmark in the gay community’s struggle. Hence, under the colourful umbrellas, banners, flags and in step with drumbeats, the pride march voiced a serious concern: “Angrez chaley gaye 377 chhod gaye,” screamed a banner as the marchers shouted, “377 Dilli chhodo, 377 Bharat chhodo”. “We expected about a hundred people. I am amazed by the turnout. Even straight men and women are here to lend support,” said Gautam Bhan, an activist for gay rights, as the leading group of marchers waved a giant rainbow flag. The Pride March is held across the world in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots. On the morning of June 29, 1969, the police in New York raided a gay bar called Stonewall Inn, sparking a riot by the community that lasted five days. “Now, finally, Delhi is part of the universal Pride march,” said a member of the Delhi FrontRunners and Walkers, a support group. In the parade, holding aloft his rainbow flag was fashion designer Manish Arora. “I have no idea why nobody else from the fashion fraternity is here. I wanted to be a part of the Pride March ever since I heard of it. And it feels good to be here,” he said. Behind him walked three girls, their faces covered with handkerchiefs. “Give me support. I want to take off my mask,” read their banner. “My family does not know I am here,” said the young girl holding it. And it wasn’t just Indians —even expats turned out in large numbers. “I have participated in the Pride March in Manchester. I made it a point to be here today since I am working in Delhi now,” said Tuuli, a Finnish girl. Next to her, an Italian girl struggled with Hindi slogans. Over 150 police personnel lined the streets — among them 25 women constables. Though the marchers took around an hour to cover the 1 km route, traffic remained undisturbed. The march ended with a candlelight vigil, “in memory of all those who wanted to be here but could not either because they are afraid or they are no more,” said Bhan. He added that they have documented 35 cases of gay or lesbian people committing suicide in the last five years to escape conventional marriages. As activist Ashok Row Kavi put it: “They said we couldn’t hold this march. How wrong they were.” Dipanita Nath on ExprssIndia.com Jun 30, 2008 at 0243 hrs IST

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