After the Supreme Court reverted the 2009 Delhi High Court ruling of decriminalising homosexuality and nullifying Section 377 in 2013, most major cities in the country erupted with fiery protests against the decision. But while the LGBT movements had already gathered quite a lot of momentum in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore, for some of the secondary cities, it was still in its infancy stage.
The north-eastern states of India, or together called the Seven Sisters are some of the most discriminated ones in the country. Because of the differences in culture, customs, ethnicity and most importantly, appearance and language – the residents of the north-eastern states are often referred to as ‘not-really-Indians’. The students who go to other places from these states are called names and are made fun of. Add to that the constant insurgencies that have been more or less constant in the region since pre-independence era, you get a scenario where holistic progress is kind of stagnant.
Over the years, not much government initiative has been noticed to change this situation to any extent. Many would call this a step-motherly behaviour. Needless to say that when a place is made subject to discrimination by the citizens of the very same land where they belong to, for no apparent reason other than certain differences, that too in a country which is by default so much diverse – yet smaller a minority like the LGBT community is bound to face even graver situations.
But in 2014, despite various threats and vandalism by right winged groups, Guwahati hosted the first LGBT Pride Walk in the entire North East India. There was participation not only from Guwahati, but also from other regions of North-east India — particularly, Manipur and Meghalaya.
The Pride March soon led to the creation of Xukia (meaning ‘unique’ in Assamese), Assam’s first ever LGBT support group in May 2014. Xukia made it easy for the youths of Assam and its sister states to come together and have open discussions about homosexuality and other LGBT issues, which was not so simple to do before.
Bitopi Dutta, one of the founding members and earliest LGBT activists in Assam, and currently a PhD scholar at the Dublin City University in Ireland said:
“We organised panel discussions, film screenings, informal gatherings, and, also, invited resource persons from other cities to conduct workshops on gender and sexuality related issues. This opened a plethora of avenues for young people in the city, who were struggling to come to terms with their sexuality.”
Similar activities had been taken up in Manipur by All Manipur Nupi Manbi Association (AMaNA) since 2008 and Empowering Trans Abilities (ETA), founded in 2014 for lesbian, bisexual women and transgender men, which works closely with AMaNa.
In Meghalaya, a community based organisation (CBO) located in Shillong called Samakami has been offering health services and legal aid to members of the LGBT community since its opening in 2007.
The Guwahati Pride Parade celebrated its fourth year on February 5, 2017 where the theme of the day was ‘Freedom’. Throngs of people gathered in the streets of Guwahati to celebrate their individuality. There were songs, music, banners, balloons and of course, a good many amount of rainbows. Other than representatives of the LGBT community, the parade was supported by students of Guwahati University, National Law University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, media persons and locals. Apart from slogans of freedom from Section 377, there were chants about revoking the AFSPA too.
This pride walk, being the sole prominent one for the entire north-east, deserved much more national media attention just like the ones in the other cities. But even after several attempts by organisations like Xukia, local electronic media remains ignorant of the issue; or rather chooses to because it is “controversial”. As a result of no mass awareness, it gets difficult to gather people for the cause.
But despite such lack of institutional support, it is still going strong and reaching the people who need help and support, and bringing them out so that more people can be reached and helped. Solidarity is the only solution in a place like this where the real issues get shrouded in a cobweb of too much politics and ignorance.