India's gay rights movement makes its voice heard in New Delhi | Asia Pacific

India's gay rights movement makes its voice heard in New Delhi

India's gay rights movement makes its voice heard in New Delhi

Updated 26 November 2012, 23:15 AEST

Hundreds of gay rights supporters in India marched through the capital over the weekend, demanding they be allowed to lead lives of dignity.

In 2009, the New Delhi high court decriminalized gay sex, which until then, had been punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Conservative groups have asked India's top court to overturn the order, and the Supreme Court is yet to make a ruling.

Correspondent: Del Irani

Speaker: Zorian Cross, Actor and Playwright; Vimal Bhai, Indian gay-rights activist and member of the National Alliance of People's Movement

SFX: Drums, parade music.

IRANI: Dozens of demonstrators danced and sang as drummers and musicians performed.

Some carried a nearly 15-metre-long, rainbow-coloured banner and many others waved placards.

The protest was partly about demanding an extension of anti-discrimination laws to schools and offices.

But for some at the parade, it was also about showing solidarity.

CROSS: So many people in Delhi who are so scared of, even all across India, who are so scared of who they are, they get the courage by seeing such a big community out there to support them.

IRANI: 27-year old actor and playwright, Zorian Cross, was one of the few people who took part in the parade without covering their faces.

Many wore scarves or masks because they had not told their friends or families about their sexuality.

This is a common problem in India, says Vimal Bhai, a gay-rights activist and member of the National Alliance of People's Movements.

BHAI: It is not only fear to come out, but hesitation and morality, a question of morality and question of society, question of family. Many challenging questions are there, so its not easy to come out.

IRANI: This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to ascertain exactly how big the gay community is in India.

In March this year, New Delhi's court had asked for the numbers, during a hearing on the decriminalisation of gay sex in India.

According to the figures submitted by the Indian government, there are about 2.5 million gay people in India.

But Vimal Bhai says the number must be higher.

BHAI: We cannot say that how many people are there. Because in India, its very different kind of country, so people not easily come out. So people are there, but under the layer, under the curtain.

IRANI: However, he admits that since the 2009 ruling, in which gay sex was decriminalized, things have gotten better.

BHAI: Better, easier and helped. Because before that, police used that against gay people and they put them behind bars. But now it is not a crime. Although it is really not a crime. I mean how can you that say, uh, one person is doing love with another, how its a crime? And the high court reorganised this thing, so it helped a lot.

IRANI: Conservative groups have asked India's top court to overturn the order, which would once again make homosexuality a criminal act, punishable with a 10-year prison term.

BHAI: Many fundamentalist groups are saying, "Oh its a question of morality how can men do sex with men? how can women go with women? Its against ethics, its against morality."

IRANI: India's Supreme Court judges are currently hearing opinions from a range of people, including conservative groups and gay rights activists.

While Vimal Bhai admits many challenges lie ahead, he also says a cultural shift is occuring and the 2009 ruling paved the way.

BHAI: After that decision, the pride march organised in a very big manner. In a very huge number people came out and now in different offices, in universities, in colleges, they are somewhat acceptable, 'oh he is gay, oh ok, so what?".

SFX: Drums, parade music.

IRANI: Back at the parade, 27-year old Zorian Cross sounds every bit as optimistic.

CROSS: We can unite as a common front and we can build a strong brotherhood or sisterhood throughout the entire community. Like that more and more parents are accepting, more and more family members, communities, even offices and corporates are becoming accepting of the entire queer community.

IRANI: But, complete acceptance may still be a long-way off.

During Sunday's parade, while they were not as vociferous, conservative groups held a protest of their own, campaigning against gay-rights.

And if the Indian Supreme Court rules in their favour, it could be put a big setback for India's gay community.

SFX: Drums, parade music.

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