The Azaadi March reiterates that homo phobia is a thing of the past
Amidst feather boas,sequined saris and rainbow wigs that came out for the Queer Azaadi March yesterday at the August Kranti Maidan,was a delighted Ashok Row Kavi. The veteran LGBT activist,dressed in drag,welcomed celebrants,revelers,protestors,and the curious as they all came together for the third such march in the city. There are so many more straight people here than ever before, he exclaimed,the number of fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and friends whove come here to show their support is overwhelming.
The pride in Row Kavis voice tells a bigger tale. Since the first march in 2008,Mumbai has shown support for its gay community with passion and style: waving banners,rainbow flags and happily photographing spur of the moment dance gigs and jubilant singing. As the large crowd gay and otherwise started its march from the historical maidan on Saturday afternoon,it became clear that the pink lifestyle is slowly making inroads into the mainstream.
In the words of young graphic designer Anita Haridas,who is straight and was at the march for the first time,homosexuality cannot be swept under the carpet anymore. People cant help being who they are why persecute them for it? Were all different in some way or the other and we should just celebrate that,instead of shutting out those who are not exactly the way we are.
That the mainstream is more accepting of homosexuality is clear in popular culture. Not very long back,a gay person was the standard comic relief in flamboyant clothes and loose-wristed exaggerated gestures. Now we see real love stories and heartbreaks of gay and lesbian couples on shows like Emotional Atyachar,Axe Your Ex and The Big Switch. Most of these young boys and girls look and talk like the rest of us.
The slow but sure assimilation of the queer into the mainstream owes a lot to the efforts of the LGBT community itself. In the run-up to the march,for instance,a number of events were organised in the city,which were open to straight people as well. Shobhna Kumar,founder of Queer Ink,Indias first online bookstore for all things queer,had organised an open mic night at Copper Gate Hall in Bandra on Friday,to encourage a dialogue with the mainstream. Among the audience that had come to listen to people read out their poetry,fiction and songs,were many straight people,such as management consultant Sudeep SV. Its important for all of us to listen to the creative output of the queer community. You get an idea of what they feel and what theyre going through. I have gay friends,and apart from their sexual orientation,theyre not so very different from me. he said.
Similarly,Anand Bhaskar of the music band MHO4,who performed at the Queer Gear for the Straight Ear concert on Thursday,says,Though I am straight,I would like to believe that my love songs talk to the members of the LGBT community too. Many of my gay friends have told me that they identify with the struggles we talk about. Clearly,Kumar has achieved her objective to an extent.
Theres still a long way to go. The pink lifestyle will have truly arrived into the mainstream when queer needs and sensibilities are met in material ways as well. Its true that people are experimenting more and have fewer qualms about being seen reading a queer book,for instance. But it will be many years before we have the kind of shops and stores we see abroad,that cater to the queer community, says Kumar.
Whats also worrying is that while television has found ways to make space for homosexuality,big brother Bollywood is far from doing so. Movies like Dostana,Page 3 and Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyun still rely on homosexuality for shock value or humour. Sensitive depictions are left to movies such as Honeymoon Travels,I Am and My Brother… Nikhil. Why not let one of the band members in contemporary films such as Rock On!! be gay and leave it at that without giving an explanation? I am unsure how many mainstream heroes will be willing to play homosexual mainstream characters, says Onir,who directed the latter two.
No wonder then that the queer community is now making strategic and symbolic statements. The march was held soon after Republic Day this year. It is hardly a co-incidence. Were here to tell people that this is a free country and according to our Constitution,we all have the same rights,regardless of age,gender,religion or sexual orientation, declared Row Kavi.
(With inputs from Premankur Biswas)