On 2 April, the LGBT+ community in the conservative Indian town of Lucknow hosted the first Awadh Queer Film Festival with the hope of facilitating a progressive discussion surrounding the nature of India’s oppressive anti-LGBT+ regime. Only a week later, on 9 April, they celebrated their very first Awadh Queer Pride Parade, a monumental act of defiance in the face of discriminatory anti-gay laws and social stigma.
While the rights of transgender individuals are acknowledged under Indian law, homosexuality is not. The LGBT+ community in India face up to 10 years imprisonment if suspected of committing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”; that is, homosexual relations. This is outlined under Section 377 of the penal code, originally introduced under British colonial rule and brought back into effect by India’s Supreme Court in 2013. In 2015 alone, 1491 arrests were made under this law, 207 of which were minors – a particularly troubling notion when considering that the vague wording of Section 377 does not distinguish between consensual sexual relations and sexual assault.
“We support Section 377 (the law) because we believe that homosexuality is (an) unnatural act that cannot be supported.” – Indian Home Secretary Rajnath Singh
However, the LGBT+ community of Lucknow are refusing to accept their status as second-class citizens and have taken to unique forms of protest art to display their struggles. The Awadh Pride Committee in collaboration with the Humsafar Trust hosted the Adwah Queer Film Festival, in anticipation of the upcoming Queer Pride Parade. A total of 9 films were screened which stunningly explored visual themes of gender identity and sexuality, specifically in relation to India’s conservative socio-political landscape. A panel discussion ensued in which crucial issues such as invisibility of lesbian and bisexual women, transgender struggles and a need to reform education in order to be inclusive of the LGBT+ community were addressed.
“We were able to raise awareness and sensitize the mainstream society on LGBTIQA+ issues through the powerful medium of films.” – Tanzil Ahmed, member of the Awadh Pride Committee
The film festival played an important partnering role in mobilising the local LGBT+ community to voice their disdain over India’s unjust legal practices during their first Queer Pride Parade, which took place a week later. The parade, which attracted people from as far as Mumbai, Kolkata, Chandigarh and Jaipur, culminated in 300 colourfully-clad and glitter-smeared marchers overall. While these numbers may seem comparatively small when held against iconic events such as London Pride, it was nevertheless hailed a success by attendees who felt their message had been clearly projected.
The main organiser of the event, Darvesh Singh Yadvendra, said that the objectives of the march were to celebrate gender and sexuality diversity as well as protest the harassment faced by the LGBT+ community.
“There have been cases where such people have committed suicide. We have seen discrimination in the family, in the workplace and in society.” – Darvesh Singh Yadvendra
While several countries have placed international pressure on India to repeal their outdated laws, no such change has yet been made. However, Yadvendra maintains that even though he feels the festival was tiny, it was ultimately a pivotal and necessary step in promoting the message of love, acceptance and dignity as promised by the Indian Constitution.