India still has a long way to go before the homosexual and transgender communities can feel safe in the country. However, thanks to the efforts of communities like Rangrez and individuals like Swagat Shah, the dream of "equality irrespective of sexuality" might be achieved a lot faster than earlier anticipated.
Marking the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual (LGBT) pride festival, the roads of Baroda in Gujarat will be painted in all colours of the rainbow, on 29 and 30 November 2014. Backed by Rangrez, a Baroda-based youth group that supports equal rights, the Gujarat LGBT Pride Festival (GLGBTPF), has been held twice in Gujarat before - once in Surat and the second time around in Ahmedabad - but Baroda would witness a celebration of this kind for the first time.
Indian actor Nakshatra Bagwe, who is an outspoken gay rights activist, is spearheading the pride festival this year, which promises flash mobs, film fest, pride march and various cultural programmes.
Bagwe, who had first assisted Swagat Shah, late gay rights activist and the founder of GLGBTPF, with Gujarat's first pride festival in Surat, has had to take over, after the latter's untimely death. "We are a team (I still use present tense for our friendship). He was leading this year's festival and he was so excited. His sudden and untimely exit is responsible for me taking the charge [sic] and keep living the dream and vision of my friend," Bagwe told the IBTimes India Edition.
The festival will begin with "Best of Kashish", a film festival, at 11.00 am on Saturday, which will be followed by "Raabta", an in-house event which will comprise of dance, music and other art performances showcasing the local talent of Baroda, and is expected to run till 6.00 pm.
Kashish, which is India's only LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual Queer) film festival to be held in a mainstream theatre and the first queer festival in India to receive clearance from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, is internationally reputed and was voted as one of the "top 5 coolest LGBT film festivals in the world" by a worldwide poll conducted by MovieMaker magazine in 2013.
The "Best of Kashish" film festival, divided into "Our Lives" – documentaries from USA and India that highlight issues faced by LGBT persons and powerful stories of those who have overcome adversities - "Our Worlds" – narrative shorts from Italy, USA and India that gives a funny and dramatic take on sexuality and how different people deal with it - and "Our Loves" – films from Japan and Israel that look at how society impact love, will feature highly-acclaimed films that highlight the struggles, aspiration and issued faced by the Indian and global LGBTQ community. Some of the movies listed for the broadcast include "Families Are Forever", "Luigi &Vincenzo", "Kyunki", "Out in the Dark" and "PDA".
In celebration of all gender identities and sexual orientations, the members of the GLGBTPF would also hold a pride march on Sunday from Genda circle to Chakli circle. The march that begins at 4 pm and is expected to end by 6pm aims to spread the message that "no individual, community or section of society should face stigma, discrimination or violence because of their gender and sexuality".
While, many Indians who identify as gay or queer are excited about the event, there is still fear of homophobia. "I personally believe homophobia is decreasing slowly, still we have a very long way to go... People are more positive and aware compared to last year. I am promoting our event on many gay dating sites in the Gujarat section and people from community are excited about this event but at the same time they are really insecure to join us and such events because of judgmental attitude of the society," explains Bagwe.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code allows for the homosexual community to be treated as second-tier citizens in the country. Although the archaic rule which criminalises sexual activities "against the order of nature", including homosexual acts, was introduced during the British Raj, UK itself has repealed the law in their country.
"It's just not about sex but it's about self-respect and safety of LGBT community. We are also citizens of this country and we pay taxes, we do our duties as other responsible citizens of India, then why don't we still have equal rights?," asks the young actor who hopes that the Supreme Court would soon come up with a positive decision in curative petition.
Pride Festivals have become a norm in many Indian cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Pune. The coming weekend offers similar hope to the gay community in Baroda, after which GLGBTPF hopes to spread to other parts of Gujarat.