I was pleasantly surprised to be a part of a march of 700 to 1500 people (depending on which newspaper you read) in support of the LGBTQ community in Kolkata. The last time I was here in 2011, I got the impression that homosexuality was still very hush, hush even though it had been decriminalized two years ago. Then again, I was in the more conservative state of Rajasthan. People dress, talk, and act totally different there than they do here in West Bengal. Even the tea is different. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that India is so diverse that you can’t make blanket statements.
The Pride Walk was like walking into a giant hug. It was warm, everyone was friendly and outgoing. There were people of all ages, shapes, sizes and colors some in drag, others in masks and many with signs. Some people were hamming it up for the camera while others were behind the camera taking all the pictures. It was refreshing to see people exercising their democratic abilities by marching in the street and talking to the press. It was also very interesting to watch the people watching us as we walked along. Nobody was giving us any trouble, they were simply just watching.
It can be scary to enter into a new society. Before coming to Kolkata, I was concerned about how my personal experience would be. I stand out, but not always as an American since my skin is not white. I was worried that I would feel the pressure to overcompensate in some way, perhaps in my behavior or dress. I was worried that each point and over-the-top stare would wear down my spirit. However, going to that Pride Walk assured me that things would be okay. It was a celebration of non-conformity and diversity that I needed to know existed before I grew too uptight. To me, it was one of the most positive manifestations of ‘India in transition’ that I could have imagined and I am so thankful for the experience.
And of course, there was plenty of dancing in the street. People were really feeling the drums. How can you not? Shimmies for everyone!