On July 2, 1999, the first LGBTQ Pride Walk in South Asia was taken out from Kolkata’s Park Circus ground. It had just 15 participants.
“Last year, the number of participants crossed a few thousands. Several people who are not from the community participated in the walk to express solidarity. When the walk started in 1999, it was spontaneous and there was no requirement for police permission. It lasted about an hour. But as the crowd has grown over the years, we now need police permission and a fixed route,” Pawan Dhall said Thursday, moments after the Supreme Court passed its historic verdict decriminalising homosexuality.
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Dhall, one of the pioneers of the same sex rights movement in the city, is also the founder of Varta Trust, which runs India’s first LGBTQ health and legal helpline portal, ‘Reach Out’.
What started in 1999 is today popularly known as the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk (KRPF). “Now I won’t feel helpless if someone calls and says he or she is being blackmailed or harassed. This is a historic day. The Supreme Court spoke about equal rights. The next step would be to initiate a dialogue with doctors, lawyers, politicians, police and people from all walks of life,” he said.
Amid celebrations, representatives of the LGBTQ community stressed on the fact that the struggle to find social acceptance will continue.
“We are all happy and celebrating. But the next morning, a community member will wake up and face the same social stigma. We have a long way to go. At the grassroot level, in villages, community members do not know about Section 377. They are harassed, raped and face many other atrocities,” said Joyita Mondol (30), India’s first transgender judge engaged with the Lok Adalat in Islampur, North Dinajpur.
“Sensitisation of police is needed. If a transgender is raped, no FIR is lodged. Instead, people laugh at the victim. It is through pressure from organisations and people like us that the police lodge complaints and start cases. Now we have to speed up our struggle for equal rights in the true sense; social acceptance, education and jobs for community members,” she said.
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Hailing the verdict, Ranjita Sinha, a member of the West Bengal Transgender Development Board, said, “This is like independence day for us. However, a lot of sensitisation of families, police and others is needed now”.
For Sumi Das, who runs an organization called ‘Maitreyi Sanjog’ in the villages of Coochbehar and other districts of North Bengal, the SC verdict will empower people to work more for the marginalised LGBTQ community in rural areas.
“It empowers us to fight and work for our community. In cities, community members are relatively free. But in villages, the situation is bad. The social pressure is too much here and our community members hide. This will help us reach out. There are hundreds of people in this district alone who I know are community members,” said Das. ‘Maitreyi Sanjog’ presently has 170 members.
“I feel that this is the second independence of all Indian citizens, and not just from people from the community, but from a draconian law that carried the baggage of colonial legacy,” said Kaushik Gupta, a Calcutta High Court lawyer.