The genesis of NammaPride & queer movement in Bengaluru

The genesis of NammaPride and queer movement in Bengaluru

[Reposting an old story published ahead of 2017 Namma Pride, the annual pride march held in Bengaluru, in the wake of the latest SC verdict on decriminalising homosexuality]

The 'Pride movement' in the country is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Bengaluru, one among the three cities to start the gender rights movement in the country is marching on November 26 for the tenth consecutive year.

Speaking to DH, Yash Sharma, a founding member of Coalition for Sex workers, Sexual & Sexuality Minorities’ Rights (CSMR), Rakshita, social activist, and CSMR members and organizers of the Pride March 2017 Ayaan Syed and Sumitra detailed the history of LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexual and Asexual) movement in the city and its current status.

A video released by team NaammaPride (Bengaluru Pride) as part of one-month long Karnataka Queer Habba says the first pride march in India was organised at Kolkata in 1999. Sharma says the Kolkata rally was accompanied by a similar one in Bengaluru. “It was from MG Road to Trinity and back to MG Road. Since there are no annals, we assent to the common opinion that Kolkata witnessed India’s first pride rally,” says Syed.

The dawn of current Bengaluru Pride was in June 2008. It was just a one-day event in which around 300 people marched from National College ground to Town Hall.

Birth of CSMR

 
On 20 October 2008, five transgenders were arrested and locked up in the Banashankari police station. “I was part of the AIDS crisis intervention programme of Sangama, an NGO,” Sharma says.
 
“We got a call to the helpline number saying that they were arrested and locked up in the station.” This led to a protest at the police station, which ended in lathi-charge.
 
“31 protestors were arrested and I was one among them,” he said.
 
This was the spark to form the CSMR, under which the pride has since been organised.
 
The second pride rally was on June 29, 2009. Sharma still remembers that on June 12, former Union minister Veerappa Moily signalled a rethink on Section 377, the 19th-century law that criminalises homosexuality. 
 
Three days later, Delhi High Court abandoned the section as it violated the fundamental rights assured by the Constitution of India. The verdict would be suspended by the Supreme Court later.
 
The first protest rally against Section 377 in Bengaluru was organised in 2000, says Sharma.
 
“It was from Bannappa park to Nurpathunga road.”
 
“Later, collaborating with Delhi and Mumbai, we decided to postpone the rally to November,” Sharma said. The intention was to organise the rallies on separate dates to avoid clashes with other cities.
 
Bengaluru Pride became Namma Pride last year. The month-long celebration is called Karnataka Queer Habba. They are organising 45 events this year.
 
“We are expanding every year,” said Sumitra, a CSMR member proudly. Asking about the organisational set-up of CSMR, she said “It is not a rigid organisation. People keep coming in and going. It can never be rigid, I suppose.” They, though have a treasurer.
 
How did they organise?
 
Of course, organising the rally was an upheaval task for them. 
 
“We had six dropping centres as part of the HIV crisis intervention programme in Bengaluru. We told the community members that we are organizing a pride rally, you may join us,” says Sharma. 
 
According to him, the rally is not only for the trans-community and homosexual individuals. 
 
But also about the sex workers and many other allies including garment labourers, college students and well-wishers.
 
The sex workers in the state are organized under Karnataka Sex Workers Union. The CSMR, every year sends them an official invitation to participate in the pride.
 
“We have nearly 3,000 email IDs in our contact. We invite all of them,” said Syed.
 
Till 2011, remembers Sharma, supporters outnumbered the community members in the rallies.
 
“We are happy to welcome them. After all, the aim of rallies is to sensitise the society,” said Syed.
 
Namma Pride was the first in the country, in 2016, to hold a differently-abled-friendly pride rally. “This was fully organised by an ally,” Syed said.
 
Madhumitha Venkataraman is leading the team. The CSMR pays attention to the accessibility of route of the march and venues of the events. They even arrange 'friendly cabs' to follow the rally. It is a deed towards inclusiveness and equality, they believe.
 
“There are different organisations working on different issues. All will join hands under the banner of CSMR for the Pride rally,” said Sharma.
 
“For example, there are various organizations for lesbian and gay communities. Individuals may not approach us directly. And we have our differences. Be it politics or personal choices. But at the end of the day, we all come together for the pride rally,” added Syed.
 
Syed said many people from Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu approach them for help, including shelter. They provide them the needful.
 
The Hassan experience.
 
A controversial article of Karnataka State Police Act keeps in check the transgenders in the state. 
 
According to the Article 36 A of the Act, “If you are a transgender, you have to register your name in the nearby police station with your ID card number and phone number. They have the right to inspect your places at any time and you have to be present at the station even if they call at midnight,” said Sharma.
 
There were discussions by various governments to amend the act to remove the word ‘eunuch’ which was adopted from the Andhra Pradesh (Telangana Area) Eunuchs Act, says Sharma. 
 
The transgender policy (draft) of the Karnataka government reads, "Section 36-A of the Karnataka Police Act which criminalises hijras and other transgenders in the state should be repealed."
 
“In 2013, transgender community members were charged with false cases under Article 36 A in Hassan. We took it up and won the case,” said Sharma.
In September 2019, a TV9 ‘sting operation’ alleged that a graduate student was kidnapped when he was a minor and was forcefully made to undergo sexual reassignment surgery (SRS). 
 
Later, she organised a press meet and said the allegation was fabricated.
 
Sharma said nearly 4,000 transgenders came for the protest on a short notice.
 
The change of attitude
 
Sharma, who has been part of the queer movement for the last twenty years observes: “earlier you cannot walk on the road without harking to the comments. Now it’s mitigated.”
“Many people, however, don't know what gay means. When I told that I am a gay, parents asked me: 'are you saying that I gave birth to a hijra?' ” Syed said.
 
“When we started negotiating with the state government, they were completely blank about the demands. That was the first time they listen to such issues. But now they understand. But each time there is a new officer, you have to start afresh. This is a continuous process, I feel,” Sharma added. “Last month when I approached the officials for the permission for the rally, the lady over there told me: 'I was thinking that you haven’t come for permission.'
 
The visibility and the recognition is certainly the result of the activism in the country, including the annual pride rallies, they believe. They hope the future generations will enjoy the benefits resulting from the current fight.
 
The trans people in Bengaluru
Rakshita feels, have not got the status of transgenders has not improved as much as gays or lesbians.
 
“Pride rally is the platform for those people to assert their identity who otherwise would not come to forward for it,” said Rakshita. Organisations like Payana also help the trans people for this. Payana is an NGO “working for the betterment of working-class non-English speaking sexuality minorities community members in Karnataka.”
 
The laws alone cannot change people’s mindset, said Sharma. “Dowry is banned. But still, people practice it.” But the youth think differently, he feels.
 
Transgenders in public space
 
Rakshita has many stories to share her experience in the city. “If you go to a pub, they won’t allow us in. They would say your dress code is not fine or you are coming for sex work. Community members are comfortable with LGBTQIA parties.”
 
Be it buses or more urbanised spaces like metro or shopping malls, people treat trans people as aliens.
 
“In buses, even if I am sitting in the women’s seat, they will ask me to get up or they won’t sit with me.” She says when she entered the metro once, people maintained a distance from her.
 
“Basically, there are two sets of people. One will move away and another will pass comments,” says Syed.
 
Asking about the security staffs in the metro, Rakshita said, “When we enter metro, first these security people will look if we have breast or not. It is the fact. And they will pass comment. It is a sexual harassment.”
 
Sharing a positive moment, Sharma said a pub in Brigade road was declared they are open to LGBTQIA in 2009 after the Delhi HC verdict on Article 377.
 
In 2012, Rakshita and her friend went to a shopping mall that was recently inaugurated. “Security stopped us at the entry and said ‘you people are not allowed inside.’ I told them, we are working for our community organisation and showed the union card. And told them if anything happens, I will be responsible.” 
 
Then one management person came and said tomorrow if owners come and ask he will have to give the explanation. “There was an argument with her, too. Many security personnel had surrounded us! From four to nine, I was arguing with them,” she said. They managed to get in after a senior person came and tendered and apologised.
 
“No mall is different. They allow us now. But the approach is disgusting,” she added.
 
Even their families don't accept the trans people. “If the children become goons or terrorist, the family will accept. But if they become trans, they don’t!” said Rakshita.
 
“Before we curse the society, we have to look into our community itself,” says Syed. Within the LGBT community, people discriminate. There are few gay-lesbians communities of people who do not want to associate with trans. “They say they are not comfortable or afraid.”
 
Gender in IT city
 
Most of the IT companies here have their own inclusion policies. “In my company, we have a special washroom. If you are gender non-conforming, you can use this,” says Syed. 
 
They get LGBTQIAe workers from abroad to talk about LGBTQIA in the workplace. 
 
“They discuss the issues and propose ideas for changing the environment. The idea is to make the office more inclusive and diverse. They do this every year in October,” he added.
 
Many firms join the pride rally every year, officially. “We have a corporate team who is in touch with them. They can donate as individuals, not as companies,” said Syed. 
 
The NammaPride team have a clear rule about corporate funding after a previous rally landed in controversy as a company told media that “they sponsored the pride which they did not actually.”
 
Companies can hold placards of A3 size and wear their T-shirts. But they cannot talk to the media regarding the NammaPride.
 
Beyond Bengaluru
 
Expanding the rally beyond the state capital, since 2014, Karnataka Queer Habba is being celebrated in many other districts with the help of Bengaluru core team.
 
“This year we have planned for five district events. Those are one-day district programmes like panel discussions or movie screening,” said Sharma.
 
After the Hassan incident, “we decided to take almost 150 people after the Bengaluru pride to Hassan and organise pride march there. But we cannot do this every year. It was just to give a platform. But later they did not take it up,” said Syed.
 
“Last year, weallied with Manipal, we had a pride within the campus,” said Sharma.
 
This year they have programmes at Yadgir, Davengere, Udupi, Tumkur and Haveri. Raichur will organise the district pride this year. 
 
There are district based CBOs (community-based organisations) to take care of each districts schedules. “Sarathya is the state level organisation under which the CBOs work,” Sharma said. The district pride is scheduled for December 17, the last day of Karnataka Queer Habba 2017 celebrations.

 

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