Delhi Queer Pride 2015

“What do we want? Freedom!”: Freedom, Protection, and Delhi Queer Pride

Ham kya chahte? Azaadi!

Pyaar karne ki azaadi

Shaadi karne ki azaadi

aur na karne ki azaadi


What do we want? Freedom!

Freedom to love

freedom to marry

and freedom to not marry.

(Translations my own)

Variations on this call for freedom filled the central Delhi streets this Sunday as activists and allies came out in force for the eighth annual Delhi Queer Pride — and let me tell you, it was sublime. There were rainbows, there were slogans, and there were queers galore.

All the fierceness shines through despite my lackluster photography.

The Delhi Queer Pride Organizing Committee — a community-funded collective — articulated several demands:

  • Comprehensive anti-discrimination laws
  • Implementation of supreme court decision (NALSA vs Union of India) protecting the rights of trans* people
  • Action against violence against minorities and protection of freedom of expression and dissent, and
  • Repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, an 1860 British colonial law prohibiting all forms of non-p-in-v intercourse. Struck down in 2009 by the Delhi High Court, the law was reinstituted by the Indian Supreme Court in 2013.

With the right-wing BJP government — whose ministers have been vociferously anti-queer  — currently in the center, pride organizers and many attendees articulated a fundamentally intersectional vision.

“This year more than ever, we march in solidarity for a whole range of freedoms that are under threat,” reads the Delhi Queer Pride informational poster and Facebook page. “Intolerance and violence towards Dalits, Muslims, women, advocates of free speech, rationalists, and those voicing dissent, surrounds us. This year, we assert that queer freedoms are inseparable from a broader culture of respect for dissent and difference.”

Queers aren’t the only ones currently in protest in India. Communal and ideological violence, including religiously-motivated beef bans and lynching of Muslim people “suspected” of killing cows, fills the news. Meanwhile, students across the country are protesting the scaling back of educational resources and advance of education privatization as part of the #OccupyUGC movement, and contesting ideologically-motivated interventions in art education at the Film and Television Institute of India. In protest of the current political climate, a number of prominent intellectuals across India have given the government back their awards.

This context underscores the need for legal redress for a queer community that remains much embattled, especially those queer people also facing oppression for their gender, class, caste, and religious identities. But the chants that filled the streets went beyond the law: They demanded freedom.

“We don’t ask for protection,” a friend of mine, a leftist student activist at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said recently, in the kind of post-3am conversation where the angst of the world seems to open up its massive jaws.

When we talk politics (which is virtually all the time), energy flickers across her face like lightning. “We want freedom.”

This idea — freedom versus protection — is a helpful one in understanding the need for intersectional queer movements worldwide. Of course, demanding legal protection for marginalized groups from the state is often super duper important. But when we ask for protection, we often give the state or interest groups permission to turn their machinery against something — and all too often, that something is not bigotry, but other marginalized people.

We can see this happening in the United States all the time: In, for example, white queers’ targeting of black voters after Prop 8 was passed in California; in the way that arguments for marriage equality can continue to marginalize low-income people; in how zero-tolerance school anti-bullying policies can actually hurt, not help, queer youth; and — as Akhil Katyal mentions in his wonderful piece on pride — in how Monsanto, which the HRC consistently names one of the best places for LGBT people to work, is also cited as a driving force behind farmer impoverishment and suicide.

There are lots of brilliant queer activists, both in the United States and India, doing fantastic work to build more genuinely liberatory movements.

Because freedom — broad, expansive, coalitional — is necessarily intersectional.

These days, as the world goes to hell with particular rapidity, how can any pride be single-issue?

Bigotry, after all, is stunningly intersectional — and transnational to boot. Terror in Colorado and Minneapolis and Beirut and Baghdad and Paris and Dadri. American politicians who will harbor nativist extremism but will not accept children — fuck it, not only children, people — displaced by wars America helped instigate. Violence against minorities — especially anti-black and anti-Muslim violence — in the headlines in both India and the United States. Those Americans critical of Narendra Modi have only to look at Donald Trump.

The Pride poster goes on: “We recognize that a country in which queer people are free is one where all of us are free to be who we are — to have our dignity uncompromised by fear.”

Marginalized people’s dignity is dangerous to the status quo.

“When you start demanding freedom rather than safety,” another friend — another JNU activist — explains to me in that same post-3am conversation (patiently; he’ll talk me through this all night), “You begin to challenge the security state.”

I think of this lovely blog post from Shuddhabrata Sengupta during the December 2012 Delhi anti-sexual violence protests, in which protestors’ chants included just this threat of freedom:

Dharmon se bhi Azaadi. Bhartiya Sanskrit se Azaadi.

Dafter mein bhi Azaadi. College mein bhi Azaadi…

Kaam karne ki Azaadi. Padhne-Likhney ki Azaadi. Masti karne ki Azaadi…

Is Desh mein chahtey Azaadi. Is Duniya mein bhi Azaadi.

Dilli mein chahtey Azaadi. Chhattisgarh mein Azaadi. North-East mein Azaadi.


Freedom from religion, freedom from Indian Culture.

Freedom at work. Freedom at college.

Freedom to work. Freedom to study. Freedom to have fun.

We want freedom in this country. We want freedom in this world.

We want freedom in Delhi. We want freedom in Chhattisgarh. We want freedom in the Northeast.

Freedom from sexual violence becomes freedom to love, to make love, to marry or not marry; freedom to work, study, and play; freedom not just in India but in the world; freedom not just in the capital but in places — Chhattisgarh, the Northeast — where people continue to contest the state’s reach.

And this, of course, is where we — particularly the Americans in the room — need to be super careful not to understand queer struggles as linear, progress-oriented, going in one direction. In the United States, where we’ve decriminalized sodomy and even won marriage, we have far from won freedom — particularly the freedom of every human being from state violence.

American politicians, police chiefs, and the white people who fly flags (both American and Confederate) in my hometown like to tell us that the United States invades other countries, arms its police, harasses its minorities, for freedom. Actually, I think, our government and its representatives invade Iraq and target Black and Muslim people and refuse refugees with an appeal to the notion of protection.

Queers cannot ask for protection at other marginalized people’s expense.

Some friends and I sat stroking each other’s hair a few days after Pride, talking politics and loving each other and troubling ourselves. We talked about borders and their eradications — between our countries, our sex, our hands.

Sitting there, I wondered if any ending to this piece would be rather too tidy: A glimpse of something that feels like freedom, but that often rests on — to quote Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Anginat sadiyon ki taareek bahemaanaa tilism

Resham-o-atlas-o-kamkhwaab mein bunvaaye hue

Ja-ba-ja bikte hue koochaa-o-baazaar mein jism

Khaak mein lithade hue, khoon mein nehlaaye hue


the dark curse of innumerable centuries

woven in silk, in satin, in brocade –

and on the streets, in the bazaars, flesh for sale

covered in dirt, bathed in blood.

Yet Pride is also, irresistibly, about love: The very moment of love. It’s hard to go and not to dance. (Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”) It’s hard to go and not topple into friendship.

Which is still not actually an appropriate ending; we may love each other, but there is work to do. I keep wanting to end with the freedom to love, but I think love is actually just the beginning.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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