Interview with Arun Pathak

Mr. Pathak addressing a public meeting

Arun Pathakis a politician and a social worker from Varanasi. He is famous all over the world for his style of protest by committing suicide. His protest against the movie water in the year 2000 made him popular all over the world. I had been hearing about him ever since I started hearing, had seen him several times in my neighborhood and had read his name in the newspapers and magazines several times but I got to meet with him last year when I was working with Irene, a researcher from Italy. When Irene asked me to arrange a meeting with Mr. Pathak, I was not really if I would be able to arrange it because Arun Pathak has become a very powerful politician now.

Mr. Pathak on the stage

I was thinking about Arun Pathak like any other Indian politician who do not have time for people after the elections are over but my impression about him completely wrong. I was able to arrange the meeting with Arun Pathak and I was seriously surprised to see how helping nature person he was. I went to interview him with Irene at least 20 times in 2 months and he was always so welcoming. He treated us very well and answered all of our questions. I got to learn about him a lot by interviewing him.

Mr. Pathak at Roja Iftar party in Varanasi

I was seriously surprised to listen his stories about his politics, style of protest and his struggles. Mr. Pathak’s family was very poor. His father worked at Jain Dharamshala in Varanasi as a store keeper. Pathak said that often times they did not have enough money to buy both meals everyday and they slept empty stomachs several times. He had to stop his studies and he was sent to his uncle’s house in the village only because the family could not afford to send him to the school.

Mr. Pathak at a meeting

He returned to Varanasi only after a few months because his uncle also not nice to him. Finally Pathak joined municipality school (free schools but just waste of time) in Varanasi. During his schooling when he was only 14 years old, he went to a shop in his neighborhood asking for a job because he wanted to make some money to help his family. The shopkeeper laughed at him and said that he could employ a 14 year old student. Arun Pathak said that he wanted a part time job for evenings.

Mr. Pathak in 2002

After so much request by Pathak, the shopkeeper agreed to have him as a part time employee. Pathak worked at his shop for one month and when he got his first salary, which was only Rs. 30, he was so happy to share it with his family. But when he was going back to his home with his salary, a few bullies stopped him and took his money. They asked him to buy them alcohol using the same money. After drinking alcohol they all went together and beat his family. Mr. Pathak says that his family was beaten up only because they were not able to pay the rent of their apartment on time.

Arrest

Those days a political party called Shiv Sena was very popular in India for working with youth. Shiv Sena has always been known for being a radical Hindu party. There was a rumor those days that Shiv Sena was providing a pistol to all of their new members and after hearing this Mr. Pathak also thought to join the Shiv Sena so that he could get a pistol to kill the people who had beaten his family. Since it was only a rumor, Mr. Pathak was never provided any pistol by Shiv Sena but Mr. Pathak proudly says he found nuclear bombs instead of pistols in Shiv Sena.

Distributing books in Mumbai

When talking about nuclear bombs he talks about the radical people of Shiv Sena. He says he had always led the life of a leader even during his school times and after joining Shiv Sena he again became popular because of leadership quality and so many people in his party became his fans who were ready to die or kill anyone for himself. He did so many programs organized under the banner of Shiv Sena and became so popular very soon. After 11 years of hard work he became district chief of Shiv Sena in the year 2000.

Honored by Sankaracharya

His protests were always huge and always became matter of conversation in the society. His protests against the movie Water, Girlfriend and Chori-Chori Chupke-Chupke was talked about all over the world. Shiv Sena has always been protesting against the Valentines Day celebration in India and he also organized huge protests against the festival in Varanasi. His protest against the liquor stores, corruption and several other things also got huge popularity. Very soon Mr. Pathak had became a very big name all over India.

Hunger strike

Mr. Pathak has always been known for his extreme way of protesting. He has consumed poison five times in order to protest. Once he cut veins of his right hand when he stopped from entering in a temple. When I asked Mr. Pathak about why he did such things, he laughs and says that nobody listens to the poor people. If you are poor and powerless then this is what you do to make people listen to you. He proudly says that he is the inventor of staging suicide as a form of protest.

Attack

I had read so many articles about him and some of them said that the thing Mr. Pathak consumed was not basically poison and when I asked Mr. Pathak about it he showed me his palm which sweats all the time and he says that his body developed this problem ever since he consumed poison first time.  He showed me his medical prescription which says that he can not eat any heavy or spicy food, he has to drink filtered water and it all happened because of the affect of the poison he consumed several times.

offering food to poor

He says that it was not only himself who consumed poison but there were other people as well who consumed poison or tried to burn themselves only because he asked them to do so in order to protest. After saying this he called one of his workers named Bulli. Bulli is 29 years old and had consumed poison when he was only 14. He did it in order to protest against the movie Chor-Chori Chupke-Chupke. I asked Bulli several times when I met him alone about why did he consume poison and ever time his answer was same that he did not know.

offering food to blinds

He always says that Mr. Pathak had asked him to consume poison so he did it. I asked him if he ever regret about it and says- why would I regret? It was Bhaiya’s order. He knows what is best for me. I was shocked to hear it. How come someone can have this big control over someone else? The bigger shock is people’s belief in Mr. Pathak. Anyways, he worked with Shiv Sena till 2003 and then left because he was not happy with the way Shiv Sena was discriminating against certain communities.

at a school

Actually Shiv Sena was beating the North Indians living in Maharastra and was kicking them out and Mr. Pathak was seriously hurt with the situation that he decided to leave the party. He formed his own political party and run it for four years. Finally in the year 2007 he realized that he needed a bigger platform to raise his voice and fight against big evils. Finally he joined Bahujan Samaj Party which is known for working with lower caste community and fighting against Mafias.

offering food to lepers

Again because of leadership quality he was appointed as co-coordinator for two state assembly seats in Varanasi. During his work period he made Bahujan Samaj Party very popular in Varanasi where there was no existence of Bahujan Samaj Party before. He has been kind of away from politics for the past one year and has been devoting his complete time in social service and religion. He says that he has been doing a research on the outcome of religious practices. To do it he has hired 11 priests who perform vedic yagyas everyday.

Mr. Pathak's priests

These yagayas including other rituals have been going on continuously since October 2010.  He says that he wants bring the truth in the society. If there is no outcome of such practices then people should not waste their time and if performing rituals really work then they should do it in right way. He believes that rituals do not really seem helpful nowadays because they were made thousands of years ago and now when the time has changed they also need to changed. And he wants to know this change.

distributing books to poor students

I have been to Mr. Pathak’s place several times and every time I go there I see people coming to him asking for help. He makes some kind of donation almost everyday. I have seen him offering food to the lepers, blind or physically challenged people. I have seen him paying poor students fee or buying them books. I have seen him paying for poor people weddings. I think he does all kind of donation possible. He never any new cloth until he donates the same to a few poor people. I still remember that once he bought 12 tracksuits. 11 were donated to the beggars on the street first and only then he wore one.

performing aarti at Assi ghat

I have seen people running behind him, I am sure he thousands of fans only in Varanasi. He is like a star in Varanasi who is always surrounded by minimum of 6 security guards. He says that there is threat of life for him because there are so many people who do not like his popularity hence he needs security guards all the time with himself. After saying this he stops for a while and then said that can you imagine that I started working at the age of 14 because of my poor family background. He proudly says that his first salary was only Rs. 30 and now he has to spend good amount of money only on his security.

Mr. Pathak with his security guards

It is definitely a huge change for anyone and Mr. Pathak definitely deserves it. Now I have met Mr. Pathak several times and I like him a lot. I love his style of working, his devotion for his work, his understanding of the society and his super helpful nature. I am sure that I have also become his fan and would love to see him progressing in his life because I personally believe that he is a thousand time better leader and politician than anyone I have ever met. My society definitely needs people like him.

Union Carbide Gas Disaster, Bhopal

union carbide gas disaster

I went to Bhopal a few days ago with my friend to visit the city and the NGOs working on Bhopal gas disaster that took place in 1984. I had no idea about NGOs working on this issue so I called my friend Nandlal Master from Lok Samiti, Varanasi to see if he knew someone and he named me an NGO called Chingari Trust.  Nandlal Master is a social activist from Varanasi and he knew about Chingari Trust because Chingari Trust gives award to the women working against bad corporations and they had chosen 5 women from Nandlal Master’s NGO in Varanasi. I was sure that there would be other NGOs working on this issue but after reaching there I learnt that Chingari was the only NGO in all of Bhopal working continuously on this issue.

wall paintings around factory are

I was really surprised to see that no other NGO was helping the people affected by that disaster. Anyways, I called the NGO and they seemed so helpful and invited me to visit their office and working site. Their office was very close to the affected area. By mistake we reached their rehabilitation center instead of their office and to be honest I was hoping to see an office with a few people working there and was not expecting to see anyone who was personally affected but as I stepped in the office building I was shocked to see the number of affected people.

families with the affected kids

There were so many families who had brought their kids to the office because the Chingari Trust offers physical exercise classes to the affected people. I saw at least 100 kids, all aged starting from a few months to 20 years old. I just could not believe how badly they were affected. I had heard about this issue several times before and knew that the people who were present near to the affected area during the accident time were the only people who got affected and now no more new case is seen but after visiting Chingari Trust and talking with people there I came to know that still new kids are born with the diseases.

really sad

The Chingari Trust was just awesome, doing really honest business. The president of the Chingari Trust, Rashida Bee, was awarded with almost Rs. 50,00,000 in San Francisco, USA for her work with the affected people and she used the same money to form the Chingari trust and donated the rest to the Chingari trust itself. She told me that they were working on another project to open a new hospital for the affected people as the hospital they had was not enough to host all of the affected people. Now I was more shocked to hear that there were more people needing help.

newpaper cuttings

I was talking with the IT guy of the Chingari Trust and he told me that all the ground water near the affected area is completely contaminated due to the chemicals leak after the accident and is causing huge problems to the local community. Many people living around the affected area complain about it. He gave me a tour of the affected area which was hardly 10 minutes walk from the Chingari Trust. There was another surprise waiting for me near to the affected area. Now I was surprised to see that the government has allowed people to live just across the road from the Dow Chemical factory.

he was trying to say something to me

It just seemed like any other neighborhood in India. I was talking with Lane about it and he told me that in the United States usually such factories are setup away from the city so that in case of any problem the community doesn’t get affected which made sense to me and I was wondering if our government never thought about it while giving the license to Dow Chemicals. Don’t they think that they should at least moved people away after that accident took place? So many questions. We all know that there is huge politics involved in this issue also but government should never play with the lives of thousands of innocent people. After talking with Rashida Bee and other people at the NGO my idea about the issue completely changed. Now I also believe that not only Dow Chemicals but Indian government people working with Dow Chemicals in India are also responsible for the condition and they must be punished.

Please click here to see more photos of Chingari Trust office

Bhopal

the city

I visited Bhopal for first time with a friend and I really loved that place, especially the way Madhya Pradesh Tourism Department has organized tourism in the state. There was problem with the hotel but it was okay. We stayed at the Ranjeet Hotel near the railway station. The hotel was nice for the amount I paid but when I tried to book it over phone from Varanasi, they said that there was no room available. We arrived in Bhopal around 10.30 PM and we did not have any hotel booked but we knew the name of Ranjeet Hotel so we just decided to show up there and check our luck. Although they had already told me over phone that there was no room available, when we arrived there they gave us a room. It was strange but good.

bara lake

We had one important work in Bhopal which was to visit Chingari Trust to learn about their work which we were able to do the very next day after we arrived in Bhopal. Now we had plenty of time to see the city. We took some suggestions from the people working at Chingari Trust and went to visit the two lakes of Bhopal named Bada Talab and Chota Talab. Both of the lakes were just awesome. They looked clean and there were several options of water sports. The Chota Lake is separated from the Bada lake by an over-bridge. We did not play any sports but we just walked around and enjoyed the atmosphere.

beautiful kids at the mosque

After visiting the lake we took an auto rickshaw back to the hotel. But on the way to the hotel I asked the driver if he knew any good place to visit nearby and he told me about a mosque called Darul Uloom Tajul Masjid. I had already read about this mosque and wanted to visit it for sure so we decided to visit the mosque before going to the hotel. The visit to the mosques was one of the best things I did in Bhopal. The mosque itself was beautiful and really huge. This mosque is one of the biggest mosques of Asia. This mosque was one of very few mosques of India where they allow women, non-Islamic people and foreigners to enter in the mosque.

hyena in the naitonal park

Darul Uloom Taju Masid has an Islamic school inside the mosque and I met a really nice student studying there. He showed me his school, told me about his life, took me to his room… He said that he had already studied up to class 12th in a regular school but after completing class 12th, he decided to study Islam hence he joined the mosque. He showed me his books but when I wanted to touch his Quran, he immediately asked not to do so. He told me that since Quran is the most holy book for Muslim there is a certain procedure of cleaning the body before even touching the Quran. I was really impressed to see his respect for holy Quran.

lion was also there

I talked with him for about two hours and to be honest it was one of the best conversations I have ever had. We talked about politics and HinduMuslim tension also. He said that the reason behind tension between Hindus and Muslims are completely prohibited in Islam hence the people who create tension are not real Muslims for sure and if they say they are real Muslims they are telling a lie. I had also heard about this thing before and I was really happy to meet a young Muslim believing in this idea. I see these kind of people as the real development of India. We shared our contact information and I would love to meet him again whenever I go to Bhopal again in future.

awesome place

The next day we went to visit a small national park called Van Vihar. Van Vihar was also awesome. It was situated near to the Bara lake. They had bicycles for rent, battery-run vehicles or walking was also an option. It was really quiet and nice place. There were so many animals such as lion, tiger, leopard, deer, bear, hyena, crocodile, monkeys… All the animals seemed to kept in a good condition. It was a 7 KMs ride from one end to the other end of the park. Plastic bags were not allowed and it was a no-horn zone which means you just don’t feel like in India. At the other end of the park there was a cafeteria serving snacks. We rented a bicycle and watched the animals and enjoyed the quiet place a lot. It was a really nice experience.

look at the right side ones

There was something very interesting at the park. They had arrange different kind of urinal for Muslims. Actually Muslims have to sit when urinating hence a different kind of urinal system was arranged for them just next to usual urinals that we see elsewhere. This urinal system was setup closer to the ground level so that they squat and pee. I have traveled to so many places in India, have a lot of Muslim friends and have been to their homes also but had never ever seen anything like that before. Awesome. Actually Bhopal has a huge Muslim population and this might be the reason why they arranged such thing.

wetland for birds and crocodiles

The next day we went to Bhimbetka and on the way back to our hotel we visited an ancient Shiva Temple called Bhojpur Shiva temple. The next day we went to Sanchi. All of these places were really nice and I loved being in Madhya Pradesh. The weather was nice, it was really green and a lot quieter than where I live. The sites were clean, I never met any tout and everything looked cool for the tourists. My state has thousand times better tourism opportunities than Madhya Pradesh but only because of politics and government ignoring tourism all the time, very soon Madhya Pradesh will lead Uttar Pradesh. It was a very nice place to visit.

Please click here to see more pics of Bhopal:

Mumbai Gay Pride 2011

rainbow flag at the parade

Mumbai, the place of most happening Gay events in India hosted its gay pride march on 29th of January and I went to attend it. The parade was organized by Humsafar Trust which is the biggest organization working on LGBT rights in Maharastra. They used to celebrate the pride on 16th of August every year but this year date was changed because of hot weather conditions in Mumbai in the month of August. They used to celebrate pride on the 16th because they believe that India got independence on the 15th of August 1947 but the gay community in India never got independence hence they started celebrating pride on the next day of independence day.

Celina Jaitely at the parade

I had already been to the Mumbai pride parade in 2009 so I also felt that it was good decision to change the date. Anyways, the parade started from the same place where it started last year- Azad Maidan and ended at Girgaum Chowpatty. It was like 5-6 Kms walk. At least a few hundred people had already gathered before I arrived at Azad Maidan and they had speeches going on. Only after a few minutes Celina Jaitely, a very famous Bollywood actress, arrived which brought extra energy amongst the participants. Celina has always been interested in LGBT issues and has been supporting the NGOs working on it. Once she admitted that her ex-boyfriend was a homosexual. She is one of the biggest names working on LGBT issues in India. I have seen her several interviews on TV and newspapers where she talks about equal rights for LGBT community.  I had seen her in 2009 parade as well. It is nice that such celebrities participate in the pride event.

Azaad Bazaar

After a speech from Celina and other social activists the parade finally started. I saw something new this year that Humsafar Trust opened India’s first LGBT friendly store in Mumbai and they were advertising it in the parade. The shop is called Azaad Bazaar means independent store in Hindi. The liked the idea of having a special place for LGBT community because there is huge discrimination against them in India, they are made fun of. They do not feel comfortable just everywhere. And if there are such places like Azaad Bazaar then the LGBT community people could go shopping freely and meet up. In fact such places could bring change into the society because they are 365 days an year advertisement place. They are visible places and if straight community people see it then at least they would talk about it for sure and I always believe that communication can solve a lot of problems.

the parade

The parade started with at least 1500 people but soon it turned into a happy parade event of at least 2500-3000 people. The entire road was full of participants dancing and cheering up. There were people from many different places, even foreign countries.This year parade was also mix of tradition and modern culture. I got to see the most modern looking people in whole India and at the same time there were so many groups who had dressed very traditionally and were performing traditional dances and were singing traditional songs.

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi

I had once asked an officer at the Humsafar Trust about why there were so many people dressed very traditionally and he said that it is done intentionally so that Mumbai pride parade doesn’t become completely western and it is always easier to get acceptance if local culture in involved in it. And since India has the oldest gay culture in the whole world, it is always nice to mix the gay events with traditions and culture. I loved this idea. Anyways, the parade was full of joy, happiness and freedom. I saw less people wearing masks this year which clearly means that the LGBT community in Mumbai is becoming open and is fighting for their rights. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a famous Hijra social activist, also joined the parade. She is just awesome. I have already met her several times, interviewed her and I like her a lot. I think she is the most famous Hijra in the whole world.

God loves everyone

I was noticing a person for a while but did not know who he was. He was dressed like a king and I had seen him in 2009 parade also. I asked a friend and he said that he belonged to a royal family from Gujrat and was an open gay. His name was Manvendra Singh Gohil. After he revealed his homosexuality, there was some tension in the royal family and he finally started working with LGBT community in India. He started his work first with the LGBT community in Gujrat. He has in fact announced that he would adopt a child. It was nice to see big names coming out in the society and accepting their sexuality and demanding for equal rights. It was especially nice of Mr. Gohil because he comes from a royal family in India and royal families are very important for the society. If they make any changes then the society accepts it easily the same way change in the caste system along with a lot of other changes were accepted without any question.

support

I also noticed more family support this year. I saw a few people with writings like I am proud of my gay son or grand son. I saw a writing saying proud of my gay brother. I am sure that the people who are proud of their gay family members are not even one percent in number but I see the change, more and more people are accepting LGBT community. The parade finally ended at the Girgaum Chowpaty with a few speeches from social activists demanding for equal rights for LGBT community. India has already legalized gay sex practices and now they are demanding for legalizing gay marriages and equal rights. I am not sure if the situation is going to change soon. Doesn’t matter whether government allows gay marriages or not or whether they promise equal rights or not but society is not going to change soon. I have not personally seen any change in the ideas for LGBT community amongst the people of India.

great

But the good thing is that at least people have started talking about it. I see more open gay couples in the society which is a clear indication of change. But I think LGBT community is also a little bit responsible for discrimination amongst them. Sometimes they do strange things like I saw a couple of people opening their pants and showing their genitalia to the people. They were kissing each other on the main road which is not seen in India. I am not against the idea of kissing each other but I believe that if such thing is not practiced in India openly on the road then they should also not do this.

society

They won’t become part of the mainstream society until they start acting like mainstream. I believe that human feeling is same doesn’t matter whether they are gay or straight but there are some social rules and everyone should follow it. Anyways, it was good to attend the parade learn more about the community. I plan to attend the parade next year as well with a better camera. I could not make videos or interview people this year but next year I will definitely come up with more digital records of the event.

Happy Ending of the Parade

Please click here for more pictures of the pride parade-

Delhi Gay Pride 2010

Delhi pride

Delhi celebrated its Gay pride parade this year on 28th of November and I again went to attend it. They used to organize it in the month of June until last year but this year the date was changed because Delhi gets horribly hot during the month of June. I also feel that it was a nice decision. This year was important for me as it was Delhi’s first biggest gay event after decriminalization of section 377and I wanted to see the reaction of people. This year I went to the parade with my friend Babu. Later Ravikant also joined me who was me in Delhi for some personal business.

participants

I had already been to so many gay parades taking place in India hence nothing was surprising for me but Babu and Ravi were just shocked. They had no idea of what was going on. Anyways, the parade started from Barakhambha road and ended at Jantar Mantar which was around 2 hours of walk. When I arrived at Barakhambha, there were already a few hundred people. A lot of them were dressing up, a few people were distributing masks, pamphlets and candies. I have noticed one thing that Delhi pride has always a good number of Hijras.

demands

The parade seemed way bigger than the last year and it was more diverse as well. There were all kinds of people- families, Hijras, LGBT community people, students, straights… The parade started with dancing, music, slogans… and very soon hundreds of more people joined in. The paraded was guarded with hundreds of police who would sometimes stop the traffic as well so that the parade could pass easily.  The parade lasted for about three hours and it was just like any other gay pride parade in India which was a blender of modernity and tradition. A few groups were dressed traditionally and a few people looked very very modern. The parade had a huge support of students. There were a lot of young people in the parade.

love

The parade finally arrived at its destination- Jantar Mantar where they had a few speeches of social workers, organizers and participants. A huge organization called NAPM also joined the parade this year and they announced that they are also with the LGBT community in India and would fight for them. NAPM is a huge organization working of several different issues all over India and if they also support LGBT community activity then I am sure it could bring a huge change in the society. I have been working with one of the state conveyors of NAPM in UP named Nandlal Master for a long time so it was good to see that NAPM also got involved. It was a good news because I have already been planning to organize a gay pride parade in Varanasi and if NAPM supports it then it could be a big help for me.

support

All the speeches happened and people talked about different issues but mostly people talked about how they are discriminated in the society. A few people came on the state with masks over their face but after arriving on the stage, they took off their mask and said that they were feeling so confident after attending the parade and now did not want to hide their identity and sexuality anymore. Finally they had a candle lighting program which ended the parade for this year. I was told that there would a party after the parade and I was so excited for it. I had already attended a few post parade parties and I really loved them. Somebody told me that since the number of participants increased in the parade, they have organized parties at several different places. Some of them were paid and some were free.

definitely

I asked about it to a few people and they gave me several different addresses which means this year the parade was bigger and they needed more than one place to host the party. I went back home, got ready and left again for the party. I went to a club near to Qutubminar. But after arriving there we realized that only those people were allowed who had some kind of SMS on their mobile sent by the organizing committee. I told the security guard that I came all the way from Varanasi and I had already talked with the organizers and I was actually invited to attend the party but still they were not allowing me. The system was completely different last time when I attend the parade. Last year anyone was allowed to attend the party and there was no restriction at all.

family

It was very disturbing and frustrating. Finally I met one of the organizers on the street near the club and I asked him to me. He called someone who was inside the club to pick me up. This guy showed up at the entrance and brought me in. The club was fantastic and they had a party on the rooftop with music, drinks and food. Everything was super expensive. They were serving a small bottle of beer for Rs. 600 which is usually available in the market for Rs. 50. One small shot of cheapest whiskey they had costed Rs. 600. Anyways, I bought a few drinks and was basically enjoying the party. My friends also enjoyed the party a lot. I could easily see how shocked they were but at the same time it was a interesting time for them, especially for Ravikant.

participants

Suddenly police showed up and asked the DJ to stop the music. Actually its not allowed to play loud music after 10 PM at public places anywhere in India. The organizers tried to settle the police but these guys did not want to hear anything. Finally party was stopped and we were asked to move out of the club immediately. I was kind of disappointed because post pride parties are different than regular parties, are so much fun and I enjoy them a lot but this time I could not.  But I do not regret at all, I was happy that at least I got to attend the parade. It was a nice experience and I got to learn a lot. Hope to attend Delhi pride again next year.

Please click here for more pictures of the pride parade-

Kathmandu Gay Pride 2010

BDS office

I went to Nepalafter 7 years but this time motive was different. When I went to Nepal last time, I visited Narayanghat and Kathmandu and basically I was just a regular tourist. But this tour was more than tourism for me. My main intention was to attend Kathmandu gay pride and learn more about gay activism in my neighboring country. Kathmandu Gay Pride is organized by an NGO called Blue Diamond Society. The main guy behind all the activities of Blue Diamond Society and all other gay activism in Nepal is Mr. Sunil Babu Pant, the director of Blue Diamond Society. He is one of the members of Parliament and Constituent Assembly in Nepal.

rainbow flag at the parade

We arrived at the Blue Diamond Society office the day before the parade and I was surprised that nobody was present there. We knocked the door and one person showed up, in fact he was the only one present at the office. He said that since everyone was working hard for the pride and their preparation just ended yesterday, today everyone was celebrating and it was vacation for them. Anyways, he gave me tour of BDS office and explained me basic work of the organization. Luckily I was traveling with my friend Babu who speaks Nepali hence language was not a barrier.

loved their dress

We talked for an hour and finally left with an invitation to attend the parade. I arrived to the BDS office on the parade day around 10 am. The whole office and its surrounding was full of people. They were wearing very colorful dresses and rainbow was everywhere. There were so many people dressed in traditional Indian wears which was really interesting to see. Later I was told that so BDS has networking all over Nepal and these people who looked like Indians came from the Nepal border close to India. The office staffed looked very confident and when I talking with them they were so open with their sexuality.

Red is new Black

Nobody wanted to hide anything. I interviewed so many people including Mr. Pant and learnt a lot. Mr. pant told me that Nepal is way more progressive than India in terms of gay rights. He said that Nepali society is very much accepting the LGBTI community and he seemed very happy with the progress. He said that when he started his activism he had face problems with political parties because all of them were opposing him and his demand of equal rights for gay community and he had to struggle a lot in the beginning.

great

But only after a few months when the same politicians and political parties noticed that he was getting huge support in Nepal, they all started to contact him and they were all requesting him to join their party. Later he participated in the elections and was elected for parliament. He did so much advocacy for equal rights for LBGTI community and finally in the year 2008 supereme court of Nepal ruled in favor of laws to guarantee full rights to LGBTI people, and all gender minorities must be defined as “natural persons” under the law; this included the right to marry.

great idea

I was really surprised to hear that Nepal had already legalized gay marriages. Mr. Pant told me that in fact they were using this status of gay marriages in Nepal to attract tourism and kill poverty and they use the same slogan in gay pride parade also. The gay pride is celebrated on the same day when whole Nepal celebrates a festival called Gaijatra. Mr. Pant told me that Gaijatra has been celebrated in Nepal for ages and the idea of this festival is that everyone is supposed to be happy, make jokes, dress strangely and make other laugh and happy.

promoting tourism

I asked Mr. Pant about his hope from the future and he said that if the condition goes on the same way then very soon they won’t need to organize gay prides in order to make LGBTI community strong but the only idea behind the parade would be increase tourism and bring more money jobs to Nepal because the society would accept the LGBTI community completely and it won’t be any issue at all in future. He said that even he started a travel agency called Pink Mountain to attract LGBTI tourists and it was getting very good attention.

Suman ji in the office

Mr. Pant said that definitely there is discrimination against LGBTI community in Nepal but not as much as India or many other countries. Whatever he said was very interesting for me, especially the status of LGBTI community in the society. LGBTI community heavily discriminated in India but Nepal seemed very progressive. Anywyas, I interviewed a few other people including Suman Ji who was in-charge of Lesbian community work. She also told me the same thing that society in Nepal was changing its views for LGBTI people and very soon there won’t be any discrimination at all. She said that Lesbian community is more discriminated compared with Gays or Bisexuals but she was satisfied with the progress and had a good hope from the future.

rain disturbed a bit

Finally the paraded started and I was part of it. Everyone was so happy, dancing, laughing, shouting and cheering-up… the same way in India. There were a few groups who were performing traditional Nepali dance and songs. It was raining that day hence parade was not really organized and in fact it was stopped for a while but in any case at least 1000 people attended the parade. I saw many people just jumping in from the restaurants or shops and joined the parade. The non-participants seemed cool to me, I did not really feel anyone was disturbed.

British ambassador in the parade

I once left the parade and went to a shop and then started talking with the owner. I asked him if he knew anything about the parade and he said it was Gaijatra parade. I asked him if he was aware of any connection with gay pride and he said no. So I am not really sure if everyone even knew that it was a gay parade. The biggest shock for me was presence of British Ambassador along with a few other country’s consulates in Nepal. I was thrilled to see the British Ambassador participating and supporting the parade. It immediately reminded me of section 377 in India which criminalized same sex practices in India and was introduced by British themselves.

Mr. Pant on an elephant

Anyways, it was happy to see British Ambassador there in the parade. Mr. Pant was sitting on an elephant in the parade and I noticed non-participants calling him, raising their hands which was a clear indication that Mr. Pant was a popular guy in Nepal and people liked him. There was a chariot which was provided by Nepal Art Museum and the elephant was provided by National Zoo in Kathmandu for free to support the parade which was again a wonder for me. All these things made me feel like definitely Nepal was more progressive than India in terms of equal rights for LGBTI community. And not only in terms on LGBTI rights but in Nepal was way ahead than India in terms of women rights. I was really impressed with the condition of women in Nepal, in fact it was the most impressive thing for me.

chariot in the parade

Finally the parade ended with candle lighting and a speech by Mr. Pant. Whatever I saw in the parade was not a wonder for me but when I think of the country Nepal and when I compare it with India then everything was a wonder for me. I was surprised to see how this small country which used to be a Hindu country, like India, only until a few years ago has accepted the LGBTI community whereas in India we are more developed, we have more money, better education but still the condition of LGBTI community is very bad. Anyways, it was really nice that I attended the parade and got to talk with Mr. Pant and other people working BDS. It was very inspiring and a blessing for me. I would definitely like to attend the parade again in Kathmandu in future.

Kolkata Gay Pride 2010

Begining of the parade

Beginning of the parade

I got to attend Kolkata Gay Pride as well which was on the 2nd of July. I arrived in Kolkata on the 1st of July after attending the Chennai pride and spending a few days in Bangalore. My friend Sourendra from Mumbai had introduced me to Mr. Rajshrei Chakrobarty who was Secretary of Dum Dum Society and one of the organizers of Kolkata Gay Pride. I knew that Kolkata was the first city in India to start gay prides and I was expecting it to be the biggest one in India this year as well but when I arrived at the parade venue I was shocked  to see that there were hardly 50 people in the parade.

Mr. Chakrobarty

Mr. Chakrobarty

Mr. Chakrobarty told me about the reason of few people before I asked him about it. He said that most of the organizations working on gay rights in Kolkata boycotted the parade because of some internal politics hence they could not make the parade as big as it used to be in the past. He said that Dum Dum Society and one other organization called Anandam were the only two organizations that organized the pride this year. I was surprised to hear that most of the organizations boycotted the parade but at the same time I was happy also that at least someone organized it.

the most important message

The most important message

The parade started from Jatin Das Park near Hajra crossing and ended at the Academy of Fine Arts. The parade started with only 40-50 participants but it was really interesting. I have been to all the big prides taking place in India within past one year and Kolkata one was the most liberal parade I had ever seen in India. I noticed that nobody was wearing the masks. They had an auto rickshaw with loudspeakers and the participants of the parade were singing songs of human rights, equal rights and gender equality. They were passing out pamphlets which had writing about LGBT rights.

Cool

Cool

It was raining most of the time during the parade but it could not stop people from joining the parade. The parade started with 40-50 people and ended with at least 100 or 120 people. A lot of people joined at the Academy of Fine Arts where the parade ended. In fact, the end was the most interesting part of the parade for me. At the academy a lot of young lesbian couples joined the parade. I had never seen that many lesbians before in any of the parades whether Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai and very interesting thing was that these girls were young.

Brave girl

Brave girl

They being young surprised me the most because in India lesbians coming in public and very rare and whenever I see any lesbian I always find them over 35, living either alone or with their partner and always have no connection with the family but these young girls were really young and I don’t think they were living alone or had no connection with their family. They were so open and they knew that their parents were going to know about their sexuality if they participated in the parade but they still did it which meant their parents either knew about it or these girls knew that their parents would not mind knowing that their daughter was a lesbian. I liked it.

Mr. Ranjeet Sinha

Mr. Ranjeet Sinha

The parade ended with speeches from Mr. Ranjeet Sinha, Mr. Rajarshi Chakrobarty and a few other social activists. After the parade ended, I went with Mr. Chakrobarty to attend a cultural dance and performance program organized by an organization called Saathi. This program was basically a platform for the LGBT community to show their talent and have fun. I spent about an hour at the program and then headed back to my hotel for overnight. Dum Dum Society had organized a cultural program about 2 hours bus ride away from Kolkata two days after the parade.

Cultural dance performance

Cultural dance performance

This program was really something and I could easily see how Dum Dum Society was working honestly with the LGBT community and how they had strengthened the people belonging to the community. The program was just awesome. They had several dance performances, some of them based on Bollywood songs and some on traditional  Kolkata songs,  they had fashion shows where all the clothes were designed by the people belonging to LGBT community and I was shocked to see the quality of the program. It was really awesome and I enjoyed it a lot. The chairman of municipality was the chief guest of this program.

He had a lot of fun

He had a lot of fun

There were more people in this program than the parade. I think there were at least 500 people at this program.  I was able to interview a few people including Mr. Rajshree Chakrobarty, Mr. Ranjeet Sinha and a few other people from LGBT community and all of those interviews were really interesting. Mr. Chakrobarty told me about the history of gay activism in Kolkata. He said that it first started in Kolkata in the year 1989 which clearly shows that they were one of the few who started gay activism in India and at present there are about six or seven organizations working on LGBT rights in Kolkata.

Good message

Good message

I asked about the condition of the LGBT community in Kolkata and he said that the condition of the LGBT community living in Kolkata city area is in much better condition than the LGBT community living in the other districts or suburbs of Kolkata because of the influence of media and availability of organizations working in the city. He told me that the condition of the LGBT community is much better in Mumbai and Delhi when compared with Kolkata because Mumbai had started working on this issue way before Kolkata and since Kolkata is the poorest metropolitan city in India, the life of LGBT community is not easy here.

Equal rights, yea!

Equal rights, yea!

Mr. Chakrobarty told me something really interesting that transgenders are more discriminated against when compared with gay community because their sexuality is more visible but when we talk only about discrimination then yes, the whole LGBT community is discriminated against on various levels. I asked the same question which I ask to other people whom I interview about many people thinking that homosexuality is a disease or a fashion and it being possible to change it by getting people married or making them practice yoga (Baba Ramdev Says). His answer was like the others in that he said it is not possible to change somebody’s sexuality by getting them married.

Good slogan

Good slogan

He said that many people get married with a woman under family or social pressure but they are not happy and they practice sex with a same sex person even after marriage. I know several people who do this and I definitely believe that it just not possible at all to change somebody’s sexuality by getting them married or teaching them yoga. I asked him about the existence of the LGBT community in Hindu culture and religion and he told me several stories which proves that the LGBT community has always been in existence. I also believe the same because I have read several Hindu sacred books and have visited temples where same sex behavior sculptures are shown.

Our rights, human rights

Our rights, human rights

He told me something really intersting that I did not know before. He told me when Hanuman went to Sri Lanka to search for Sita, he saw that Ravan had kept several women but he was not able to give time to all of them hence these women had started making sexual relationships with each other which clearly shows that there were lesbians during Rama’s time also. I asked him about the revocation of section 377 and he told me that homosexuality was accepted in Hindu society and temples of Kamasutra and several other books clearly proves it but British made it illegal and this judgment of the High Court of Delhi was a right judgment and most probably it will help changing the society in the future.

She was very active

She was very active

It was really informative talking with him. He was a real and honest social worker working on LGBT rights in Kolkata. After Mr. Chakrobarty, I got to meet Mr. Ranjeet Sinha who was a transgender himself and was working with transgenders in Kolkata and nearby districts. He also told me about the problemswhich the transgender community was facing in Kolkata. He told me that there are reservations on the basis of caste and religion but no reservation for transgenders. He demanded for a separate toilet system at public toilets because when he goes to the male toilet, people make fun of him and if he goes to the female toilets then women are scared.

Great

Great

Mr. Sinha told me a story of his one friend, who was a transgender Hijra himself and was a well known social activist in West Bengal and was suffering from AIDS. He had to go to the hospital once and the doctors forcibly took off his clothes, made him wear men’s clothes and only then they admitted him in the hospital. Mr. Sinha demanded that their identity should also be recognized on official documents such as passport and voter ID card. He said that all the NGOs are focusing only and only HIV and AIDS but they must do something on other issues also related with LGBT community. He mentioned all the South Indian states, especially Chennai, as being especially progressive working on transgenders issues.

Very colorful event

Very colorful event

He also said that it is not possible to change someone’s sexual identity and if one tries to do so then the result is always horrible. Kolkata taught me so many new things. I was especially thrilled to see the work of Dum Dum Society. It was really a nice experience meeting with people like Mr. Chakrobarty and Mr. Sinha and so many other people who helped me in Kolkata and educated me about their issues and their work. I hope to go their next year as well and will hope that all the organizations that had boycotted the parade this year would join the parade again by ending the internal politics and making Kolkata a city of equal rights for everyone.

Please click here to see more pictures:

Coca-Cola Varanasi

I worked with a journalist named Bart Spellers from Holland who was writing an article about the Coke issue in India. He wanted to visit all the disputed Coke sites in India including Mehdiganj, Varanasi and I worked with him in Varanasi as his local assistant and translator. I also look for an opportunity of visiting Mehdiganj and talking with people about their problems created by Coke so I was happy to get this job. I took Bart to Mehdiganj, arranged interviews with Nandlal Master, a few employees, the union leader at the Coke plant, a few women and a few farmers. Bart did not want so many interviews but he wanted to talk with the right kind of people because he did not have much time for Benares.

I was kind of surprised to hear that he did not have much time for his work. He was writing the article on a very controversial subject and I think he should have spent more time in Benares in order to come closer to the fact. Anyways, I think they did good job because they talked with few but the right kind of people. I had an idea but was surprised to talk with the people in Mehndiganj. I was very well aware of the situation but thought it might get better this year but after talking with the people I realized that the situation is still the same as it was four years ago when I went there the first time to work.

All of the people were still angry at Coke and the government. They all said that Coke is responsible for the lack of water in Mehdiganj and the government is doing nothing against Coke. They said that the situation has been getting worse and worse year by year which did not surprise me at all. We had less than average rain last year and I heard that Coke’s market increased within the past year in India which would of course cause more ground water shortage. Nandlal Master said that the committee constituted by the prime minister of India to study the issue has submitted its report to the PMO but has not made it public yet which sounded strange to me.

Why not make the report public since the study has been completed? Nandlal said that he has used a RTI to ask when the report will be given to him and the concerned department replied to him that they have asked the district magistrate to get him the report. It is okay if they are going to provide the report but I still do not understand why they tried to hide it? Why was it not given to the media? After all it is a big issue . So many questions again and the government and Coke both seem suspicious to me. Hopefully someday something will happen, but it is not sure when.

Finally the article is published here:
http://www.depers.nl/buitenland/497352/Coca-Cola-zuigt-de-grond-leeg.html

Josh Massad’s World Through Music

Josh with village kids

Josh with village kids

I am working with a musician named Josh Massad on a project called world through music which is about teaching music and other subjects through music. Josh travels all over the world and teach music to kids. When he works in the US, he teaches African and Indian music to American kids, when he is in Africa, he teaches Indian and American music to African kids and at present when he is in India, he is teaching African, American and Asian music to kids in Varanasi. He had contacted me about a month ago asking if I would like to work with him.

Josh teaching Kanjira

Josh teaching Kanjira

The project seemed interesting to me and I agreed to work with him. He wanted me to organize his performances at schools in Varanasi. I thought it would be good for Josh and his project if he gets to work with different kinds of schools and kids therefore I organized his performances at city schools, village schools, private schools, government schools, play schools and schools run by NGOs so almost 50 performances in 25 days. There are 25 performances at village schools where kids come from really poor families, 10 performances at NGO run training centers for girls, 10 performances at city schools and about 5 at NGO run schools.

Dancing with a kid

Dancing with a kid

I have organized a performance at a school for children of sex workers in Varanasi. Actually children of sex workers can not get admission in any school because they do not have any residential proof and any document talking about their father’s name and there is an NGO in Varanasi which started a school specially for children of sex workers and we will be working there as well. I have organized one performance with kids of my education program. I have organized a performance with day time bondage child laborers. Actually there are a lot of bondage child laborers in Mehdiganj and Lok Samiti runs evening classes for them and we have a performance with those kids also.

Josh teaching map

Josh teaching map

Josh carries a map and a few instruments from different parts of the world. First of all he talks about geography, he teaches about seven continents and countries in it and then show these continents and countries on a map and then he introduces all of his instruments and shows on map where they come from. It was so interesting to see that village kids did not have any knowledge of geography at all. They did not even know in which continent India was there or they could name states of India. I was shocked to see this but I hope Josh’s lessons would help them.

showing an Indonesian instrument

showing an Indonesian instrument

After introducing his instruments, Josh plays these instruments to kids and teach them African songs. He teaches different songs but the one song that he teaches at every school is a welcome song from Africa called Fanga Alafia, Ashe Ashe. Kids love this song. They sing the song together with Josh and enjoy it a lot. Josh teaches them different styles of clapping and sometimes he teaches some basic yoga techniques as well. The project is going well, kids are happy, josh is happy so I am also happy. Few teachers at some schools asked me why Josh is teaching African songs, they don’t think it is going to help kids in any way.

Kids also love to play the instruments

Kids also love to play the instruments

I just don’t expect kids to learn all of those Josh’s instruments and geography in one day but I am sure that Josh’s performances will at least create interest about world geography and music in the kids and if they just look at the map only once at their home, I will feel like the project is accomplished. Josh is planning to make a documentary about his work next year and he wants me to organize things for him. He is planning to start a mobile school in India and again he wants me to organize it. He wants to bring musicians from different places and travel with them and teach music and geography. It sounds really exciting and I am looking forward to it.

Mumbai Gay Pride 2009

I loved his costume

I loved his costume

I attended Mumbai gay pride on the 16th of August. It is celebrated on this particular date because the gay community organizing this event says that India got freedom on the 15th of August but gay community never got freedom so they decided to celebrate their freedom one day after the independence day of India. The event was basically organized by an NGO called Humsafar that works with the gay community in Mumbai. I had already contacted people at Humsafar about my project and they were very welcoming. I was in Gwalior doing my training but I took a leave of 4 days and flew to Mumbai. I arrived in Mumbai on the night of the 14th.

They were at Delhi pride also

They were at Delhi pride also

I had attended this year’s Delhi Pride on the 26th of June and I really missed a video camera but I had arranged a video camera to record Mumbai Gay Pride. I had asked my friend Yogesh, who works in Bollywood, to arrange a camera for me and he provided me everything I wanted. I went to Humsafar on the 16th with a camera person and a friend from the US named Ryan. We met in Benares and I invited him to attend Mumbai Pride with me. I wanted to cover the preparation for the parade, interview a few people at Humsafar, interview a few people at the parade, participate in it, enjoy the party and make some new contacts to work together in the future.

Preparation for the parade

Preparation for the parade

I was supposed to start interviews at Humsafar at 12 o’clock but when I reached there I found that there were already a few media people interviewing Humsafar guys but they arranged a guy to show me their office. The office was amazing; they had an HIV and AIDS testing center. I had already been to a few NGOs but I had never seen any NGO having an HIV and AIDS testing center before, so it was really impressive. The Humsafar guy took me to the second floor of the office where they were preparing for the next day’s parade. There were about 20 guys practicing dance. A few of them hijras also. They had a guy to play Punjabi dhol and a big music system. I was surprised to see that they were practicing some traditional dance of hijra culture.

A poster at Humsafar office

A poster at Humsafar office

I just spent sometime watching the people preparing for the parade; they were really working hard and seemed so excited for the parade. All of the performers were either homosexuals or hijras who come to Humsafar if they need any help. The guy showing us the office told me that the CEO of Humsafar, Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, had just arrived at office and he asked me if I would like to interview him and I really felt lucky that I got to interview him. He was really amazing, very well educated, had very good knowledge of the issue and he really knew what he was talking about. He did not have much time but I got 15 minutes and I think it was good enough to start.

Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, The CEO of Humsafar and I

Mr. Vivek Raj Anand, The CEO of Humsafar and I

I believe that the gay community has always been in existence in India but a lot of people see it as a disease which came from the West so whenever I interview someone about gay culture, I always ask them about the history of gay culture in India. I ask them to tell me about the presence of gay culture in Hindu religious books because I know that Indians do not want to compromise with the religion and once they know something is part of their religion and culture, they are always so welcoming to this idea. And I also wanted to do the same thing, because I believe that if people know that gay culture has always been part of our culture, the it would be easy to make them understand the issue.

A participant of the parade

A participant of the parade

My idea behind interviewing all these people was to interview them and put the interviews online. I had intentionally done the interviews in Hindi so that people living in India could understand them. The interviewee told me a few stories that came from Ramayana and other Hindu religious books which showed the presence of gay culture even during Ram’s time. He talked about what kind of problems he had to face in society, how people discriminated against him, how he came out of it and what is the hope for the future. It was really interesting to learn the history of gay culture in India. He had very good knowledge about history of gay culture in India, especially in Hinduism.

Its true

Posters at the parade

Mr. Anand asked me to work with the MSM community in Benares. He said that he could give me a project or he could get me one through the UP government which was something I really wanted to do. We talked about working together in Benares but he said that Humsafar doesn’t work out of Mumbai and Thane district. He said that he would help me with anything I wanted- funding, training or any other thing but they will not go out of Mumbai and Thane district officially to work. I think I will not be able to work with him soon as my NGO is not registered under section 12 A and any NGO can not get this registration until they are at least 1 year old. But now Sanjeevani Booti has completed its 1 year and now I can apply for this registration.

Thank you Baba Ramdev

Thank you Baba Ramdev

Mr. Anand told me during his interview that he wants to thank Baba Ramdev on behalf of the whole gay community because Baba is the one who challenged the judgment of the high court of Delhi in the Supereme Court of India to revoke of section 377. He said that the Supereme Court of India would also give the judgment in favor of the gay community and this way they would have equal rights very soon. He said that there was no one who bothered coming against the judgment of Delhi high court but it was Ramdev Baba who brought this matter to the the Supereme Court of India so thanks to him. I would also like to thank Baba Ramdev for making the process faster.

Absolutely not

Absolutely not

I interviewed the Mr. Anand, the manager of Humsafar, one bisexual , two hijras, and few gays. It was really a nice experience interviewing them and listening to them and their stories. All of them were a little different from each other but they had the same issues. I think everybody whom I interviewed at Humsafar talked about discrimination the most. The manager of Humsafar told me that he wanted to get his passport with his gender showing either a girl or a hijra or a transgender but the government officials do not want to do it. Government officials tell him that they just do not know what a transgender is.

This was really interesting

She was really interesting

He said that he has gotten his name changed officially to a female’s name and now preparing for a gender change operation but still the government doesn’t want to issue him a passport showing his gender as a female or as a hijra or as a transgender. He has sued the government for this reason. He was saying that gender change operation facility is not very good in India and he wants to go abroad to get it done but since the government is not issuing his passport he is unable to do it. He said that he has decided that he will take his passport only if they issue the passport with his gender showing as a female or a hijra or a transgender.

The hijras I interviewed

The hijras I interviewed and I

He told me that he only looks like a man from his body but he is not a man, he is a woman. I interviewed one Muslim guy also who was with a group of two hijras. This interview was also very interesting. It was the first time when I interviewed any Muslim gay. He said that his family will never allow him to get married with a man, which is what he wanted, so he has decided to either escape from the home or just stay unmarried for his whole life. The hijras were also fantastic. They told me a lot of things about hijras that I did not know before.

Biggest attraction of the parade

Biggest attraction of the parade, for me:)

I never understood the difference between people’s use of the word “hijra” and a “gay” and when I asked him about it they said that educated people use the word gay and uneducated use the word hijra, that’s all. They also talked about the issues hijra community is facing in India and it was exactly as the issues of other people whom I had interviewed at Humsafar. Hijras told me something really interesting that there are two different kinds of hijras.

look at the costume, awesome

look at the costume, awesome

One of them is more respected in amongst hijras. They get married to the hijra goddess when they are so young. They have to wear a thread all the time which represents their marriage with their goddess. They can live with their family as well which doesn’t happen with the other kind of hijras. The hijras who bless and dance at the weddings are different than them; it was really interesting, and I need to do some research about it. I interviewed a bisexual who was in fact a male sex worker. It was the first time when I had ever met any male sex worker and it was amazing talking to him. He also had few issues likes discrimination because he was a bisexual guy.

Participants at the parade

Participants at the parade

He said that when he was 14 years old and would go out with his friends and his friends used to look at the girls but he never felt like he had any interest in girls. He said that when he turned a bit older, he met Mr. Anand who brought him to Humsafar and that was the time when he came to know why he did not have any interest in girls. He joined Humsafar and now he works there as a program manager. He said that he used to distribute condoms to the male sex workers at railway stations and once he gave a pack of condoms to a policeman thinking that this policeman was a male sex worker. The policeman slapped him and kicked him out of the railway station; it was a funny story.

Aceept our sexuality, it is not a defection

Aceept our sexuality, it is not a defect

The first day was all about watching people preparing for the event and interviewing a few people at Humsafar. After completing the interviews on the first day, we came out of the Humsafar office and we were standing on the road waiting for an auto-rickshaw and at the same time a 25-26 year old guy named Sourendra came to me and started talking about what we were doing in Humsafar office. I had already seen him in the office so I also didn’t hesitate telling him about my project. He asked me where I was from, what I was doing at Humsafar etc. and then he asked me about my project and said that he was also gay and visits Humsafar on regular basis.

Folk dance performers at the parade

Folk dance performers at the parade

He seemed to be an educated and interesting guy. He asked me where I was going and after my answer he said that he was also going to the same direction. He said that he also wanted to come with me. I asked him if he would like to be interviewed and he said- why not. We went together to my friend’s place and my friend drove us to somewhere where there was a litti-chokha (very famous Bihari food) party. We all went together and I interviewed him over the dinner at 1 o’clock night time.

377 out

377 out

Actually I regretted that I took him to that party because the guys over there at the party got too much interested in him after hearing that he was a gay. They would all come, look at him and laugh. I was really not comfortable there and I told my friend to change the place but since it was already 1 o’clock night time, we just decided to continue the interview at same party place. Sourendra was such an open and energetic and nice person. He talked about a lot of things that usually people do not want to talk about.

Participants at the parade

Participants at the parade

He talked about his sex practices and this conversation was really interesting. He talked about discrimination in the society, family, friends and discrimination at his job. He used to work at a call center and everything was fine for him. After a few months the call center in-charge changed and a new guy came who seemed like did not like gays. Sourendra’s voice was was sweet, like a girl, but this new in-charge wanted him to speak with a heavy voice which was something unnatural for him. He said that he pretended to speak with a heavy voice but it did not work and his performance level decreased and finally he had to leave the job only because he could not speak with a heavy voice.

Neither less nor more, we just ask for equal rights

Neither less nor more, we just ask for equal rights

When I asked him about the existence of gays and hijras in our religion and history, he told me something really interesting. He told me about the existence of gays and hijras during Krishna’s time. He said that once Krishna also wanted to sleep with a man. It was something that I had never ever heard before. I know that Ramayana in North India is different than Ramayana in South India. They have some difference between them like Ramayana in North India says that Hanuman was a celebate and South Indian Ramayan says that Hauman had more than one wife. People living in the North do not eat fish because it is meat for them and people living in West Bengal eat fish because it is sea food for them.

Bijay with his friend

Bijay with his friend

Different people have different beliefs about the same thing and maybe the case here was also the same: the Mahabharta Sourendra had read was a little bit different from the one I have read, not an issue at all. I liked interviewing Sourendra. After completing the interview we dropped Sourendra at the railway station. I was so excited for the next day’s parade. I was supposed to meet my friend Bijay, who lives in Chennai, at the parade. He was also gay and was in Mumbai to attend the parade.

Aadimanav

Aadimanav

We met at the Church Gate and headed together to the parade. I had two other guys to help me with the camera and other things. Mumbai Gay Pride seemed different than Delhi Gay Pride. I think the organizers had tried to give a cultural look to the parade. There were folk dance and song performers from South India and they were performing local dance of South India. I met Laxmi also at the parade. The parade was a little bit delayed as other things in India and started around 12 o’clock. I think the number of people at Delhi Gay Pride and the Mumbai one was same, something around 3000 people.

Youngest participant of the parade

Youngest participant of the parade

A group of people was carrying a huge rainbow flag. Mumbai seemed more respectful to the flag than Delhi. People at the Delhi parade were so excited that they started jumping with the flag and tore it off only few minutes after the parade had started. I saw a guy with his four or five year old daughter at the parade. She was sitting on her father’s shoulders and was holding the flag. A few of my foreign friends tell me that although they support gay rights they do not like gay pride parades as they are so vulgar but in India situation was the completely different- very cultural, good enough even for a five year old girl.

Laxmi and Celina

Laxmi and Celina

People were dancing, jumping and laughing so it seemed like a very happy event. I was also enjoying it. An hour after the parade started, a Bollywood actress named Celina Jaitely joined the parade. She has been involved with gay rights issue for a long time in India. I saw many Bollywood and TV stars at the parade. I think she was in the parade for more than an hour. There were a few guys with Celina and they had dressed amazingly. I had never ever seen anything like that before. Laxmi, Celina and everyone else at the parade were dancing and enjoying themselves.

bombay gay pride 194

look at the masks

I saw two Muslim girls also at the parade who were wearing Burka. They joined the parade an hour before its end but they also seemed to be enjoying it. They were also dancing with other people but most of the time they wanted to be under the gay pride flag. I think they were concerned about their identity. Many people seemed concerned about their identity like at Delhi Pride. They had covered their faces with clothes or some kind of masks. I just don’t understand why people come to the gay parade if they are so concerned about their identity? Better stay at home and watch it on TV if they can not support it openly.

Baba Ramdev would like it

Baba Ramdev would like it

Mumbai Gay Pride seemed more organized in some ways. They had a van stuffed with banners, posters, masks, t-shirts etc. But masks and t-shirts were the most demanded items. I also tried to get one t-shirt but could not because they ran out within few minutes. They were distributing bottled water also to the participants. They had few volunteers with big bags who were collecting all the garbage, poly bags and bottles used during the parade. They said that they did not want to leave anything as garbage on the road, so this was a very clean festival which usually doesn’t happen in India.

live and let live

live and let live

I saw many people looking through their balconies and windows of their houses. I am sure they were surprised. Many people just joined the parade serendipitously. I saw a few people who were standing somewhere along the road doing their business, and then they saw the parade and joined it. One thing was very sure that Mumbai pride had more transgenders and hijras than at Delhi parade. There was a group of hijras which was right behind the flag performing some traditional hijra dance but this dance was not something I had seen hijras doing where I live. This hijra dance seemed more organized and calm, but usually hijra dance is very energetic and loud.

Meeting after the parade

Meeting after the parade

The parade was moving and moving and I was just filming the parade, talking with participants and enjoying it. Finally the parade stopped at August Kranti Marg sometime around 4 o’clock where a few social workers and NGO members delivered a speech about gay rights and their future planning. I also took a break and went to the beach nearby. I did some filming there also and interviewed a gay couple whom I had seen at the parade. One other thing that was in my mind was the repeal of Section 377 and I wanted to talk about it with the participants of the parade and members of Humsafar.

They were so happy

They were so happy

I asked about repeal of Section 377 to almost everyone I talked with and everybody was so happy about it. There was a guy who told me that these kind of laws are very important for bringing change in the society. Section 377 did not affect gay culture very much in India, even when it was effected, because you never know who is doing what inside their room but the worst thing that happened because of implementation of 377 was that it changed the thinking of people over time. But now since 377 is repealed, it will take some time, maybe 50 or 100 years, but someday gays will have equal rights in India. I also believed what he said.

Hijras

Hijras

After the parade ended, my friend Bijay took me to a very famous and old restaurant near August Kranti Marg. After having a few bottles of beer, we headed to Bijay’s hotel. I spent some time at Bijay’s hotel and then we headed to the party place. The party was organized at a disco but the Mumbai party was different from Delhi one. The Delhi party was organized by the organizers of the parade whereas the Mumbai party was organized by the participants. Delhi party’s entry was free but Mumbai party’s entry was Rs. 500 but they gave me three free drinks.

I with my friends after the party

my friends and I after the party

The Mumbai party had more people than the Delhi one and it had more lesbian couples also. It was my second time at any disco after the Delhi pride party and I was so excited for it. I don’t know why but I drank a lot of beer that night at party and got completely drunk. I saw many gay couples kissing and hugging each other which was not new to me but my friends were so surprised to see it the way I was surprised at the Delhi party. The party was supposed to last for the whole night but I had to leave early as my flight back to Bhopal was at 6 o’clock morning time.

look at the costume

look at the costume

Ryan helped me by packing up my stuff and bringing me to the airport. Somehow I arrived safely in Gwalior but that I will not forget that party night, it was crazy, I loved it. This trip was very successful because I got to meet with a lot of new people, interviewed them, learnt a lot and built some business relationship with Humsafar. They have invited me again to the parade next year and I will try to attend it. I still think about the people I talked with, their issues, their stories… it was so nice talking with them.They are fighting for a issue which should just not be an issue.

very happy picture

very happy picture

My friend Sanjay, who helped me with camera, told me what I was doing was crazy when I explained him my reason for being in Mumbai but after listening to the people I interviewed, his mind also changed. He also told me that gays should also have equal rights in our society. Actually my question stories of gay culture in Hindu religion worked for him. All of the interviewees told me few stories and it changed Sanjay’s mind. I know it very well that if somehow people can come to know about the existence of gays in Hindu religion, then there will be less problem for gays to get acceptance in Hindu society.

rainbow flag

rainbow flag

I think the basic reason behind the discrimination against gays in India is the communication gap, especially about sex practices, between straights and gays and 150 years of section 377. Section 377 changed our society a lot; it changed the mind overtime. When I look at Hindu religious books and history I find that gay sex practices have always been part of Hindu culture. It was not any issue at all and we were the most liberal society on the planet but the British changed everything in India. Well, we are getting rid of the poverty given by them slowly and I hope to get rid of this crazy system also.

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