A City’s Pride
This Sunday, Delhi walks in its fifth annual queer pride parade. Each year at this time the question arises again: why a pride parade? Transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, hijra, kothi, and intersex people still have too many answers to give. While a decision on the appeals against the 2009 Naz judgment still remains pending, stories of continuing violence on the bodies of those deemed different do not wait for the Supreme Court. Queer people continue to have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace; to be forcibly dragged to psychologists; to be forced to lie, cheat and conceal their lives; to be victims of familial, domestic and public violence and to feel, in so many ways both in their own minds and in the eyes of many others, like lesser citizens.
What this past year has reminded us is that they are not alone. The fundamental pillars of what enables this violence – fear, prejudice, intolerance – seem to have dug themselves deeper into our cities just as the institutions and democratic safeguards meant to combat them seem to have floundered. The ranks of urban residents who have experienced that deeply queer moment of exclusion and otherness – whether or not it speaks the particular idiom of sexuality – have grown. This year, as people once again take to the streets, they must do so not just for themselves but for the cities they inhabit and, increasingly, must protect.
How does one belong to a city? Belonging cannot mean the same thing for different city residents. It shifts across racial, caste, class, gender, ability and sexual difference. Each outlines a different fracture in the fabric of the city. Yet often these fractures don’t even recognize that they fall upon the same skeleton. They stand apart, leaving the connections between Northeasterners leaving Bangalore in packed trains, slum evictions proceeding apace in Delhi, a public molestation in Guwahati, the rise of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai, the breaking of worker movements in Manesar, and the communal ghettos of Ahmedabad unsaid and unspoken though, fundamentally, each makes the city air so difficult to breathe in such similar ways.
Pride must march to voice all these fractures. Queer politics has long insisted that it is not just about the rights of LGBT people. It has insisted that our multiple identities cannot be pried apart from one another. We are not either Hindu or gay or transgender or dalit or able or female; we are many or all of them at once. A city that cannot make space for difference and dissent will never be one where queer people can be safe. A city without a sense of the public – of a shared space, a sense of belonging across difference of all kinds – is and can only be a city of walls, gates, and “others.”
A week ago today thousands thronged a public maidan that had been handed over to the funeral of a man violently separated the idea of an urban public from any sense of a belonging and shared ownership. On the city’s commons, he sought to build an edifice of exclusion. He tried to make the heart of a city hollow, breaking— at first, slowly and quietly but then loudly, angrily, violently—its ability to make room for one and another more who had the right to dream different dreams. Some part of the idea of the city itself seemed to burn with his pyre. Eulogies to this man in one television channel after another spoke of his “legacy,” at best with a quiet, hesitant nod to the small matters of riots, fear, murder, violence, censorship, and hate. Shops closed, bandhs were called, autos stood still. The city stood still. Days later, even an innocuous dissenting remark on Facebook was seen as an utterance too far.
What does Pride mean in the shadow of such a “legacy”? The public we seek each year to claim as queer people stands deeply shaken as if scalded by the efficiency of hate. This year we must walk not just in, but also for, the public. The rainbow colours on our faces must be colours of defiance that refuse to fade. We must walk to fill the widening hollows that pockmark our cities through which migrants, dissenters, queers, muslims, dalits, workers, the poor, and our infinite “others” keep disappearing. We must walk to reclaim empathy and love as the defining fabric of our cities even as we hold their frayed and torn edges in our hands. We must walk to take back the street, the maidan, the gali as spaces that cannot be bought or taken without a fight so that they may have other legacies, other dreams, other histories. We must walk for every eulogy left unsaid for the lives taken by hate and to drown out those that seek to honour both the living and the dead that stand by their prejudice and burn their beliefs on the bodies of others. We must walk for the only answer that stands the test of time against a politics of hate is a deep, guttural, full-throated, and unapologetic reaffirmation of love.
The Delhi Queer Pride Parade 2012 starts at 12noon on Barakhamba Road and Tolstoy Marg on Sunday, November 25th. This piece also appeared in the Indian Express this morning.