Last edited: July 13, 2004

Activists Demand Gay Rights, Law Repeal

New Kerala (India), July 1, 2004

New Delhi (IANS)—Scores of gay rights activists marched here Thursday demanding the removal of a colonial law which makes homosexuality illegal.

Shouting slogans and waving banners, dozens of gays, lesbians and transvestites walked around the Jantar Mantar observatory—built by astronomer-prince Jai Singh in 1710—demanding a change in section 377 in the Indian Penal Code.

The section bans homosexual activity, calling it “against the order of nature” and makes it punishable by a fine and a prison sentence up to 10 years.

“Isn’t it high time the government looked around and realized that gays and lesbians exist? You cannot wish us away,” said Akshay, who works for a Delhi-based advocacy group, Prism.

Prism is part of a collection of human rights groups called “Voices Against 377” that has written a letter to Law Minister Hans Raj Bharadwaj asking for the abolition of the law.

“Section 377 is a provision that was enacted by the British colonizers in order to regulate us and impose their morality upon us,” the letter said.

The Delhi High Court is at present hearing a petition against the section 377 and the next hearing of the case is on July 7.

Passers-by stopped to look at the group demonstrating in favour of gay rights just four days after a similar march drew wide attention in Kolkata. Some passers-by peered hard at their banners. Others smirked.

“What is happening?” said a woman carrying a shopping bag. “There are so many problems and all these people want to talk about is sex.”

Added another young man: “Why can’t people be normal? This is so weird.”

Undeterred by the jibes, cold stares and even taunts, the activists continued. Some of them, men wearing bangles, shook their arms, clinked the bangles and protested loudly. “We are not abnormal. Don’t treat us like that.”

Said lawyer Aditya Bandopadhyay, one of the protestors: “If this is a democracy, then there should be equal rights for everyone. That is the core point.”

But the protestors agreed that things were changing. “People are at least aware of our existence. This, in itself, is a beginning. Now we have to strive for the next step, acceptance as a part and parcel of the community at large,” said Ponni, who works for the Nigah Media Collective, a sexual rights and freedom movement.

“According to statistics, as many as 10 percent of people are homosexuals. But it cannot be proved in India, since the people are still scared of coming out,” she added.

Recently, a Bollywood film showing lesbian lovers drew violent protests from right wing Hindu groups. But as one of the protestors said: “At least the film got some attention towards our community.”

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