Kolkata pride: Then and now

This graphic has three components to it. On the top left is a long shot photograph of participants gathered at the starting point of ‘Friendship Walk ‘99’ at Park Circus Maidan on the morning of July 2, 1999 – this walk is considered the very first edition of ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’. Around a dozen participants are standing under a gazebo wearing bright yellow t-shirts emblazoned with the walk logo (not decipherable from a distance). All around the gazebo is lush green grass, with the park largely empty and some buildings in the background. A child is leaning on one of the pillars of the gazebo, staring at the participants, while a few people sleep on the floor of the gazebo behind the participants. Below this photograph is a much larger one that makes up the lower half of the graphic. This is a close sideways shot of six of the first time walkers and one other individual at the starting point of the 20th anniversary events for ‘Friendship Walk ‘99’ on June 29, 2019. The venue is again Park Circus Maidan but at a different spot. The participants are all smiles looking at the cameras (not visible in the photograph), standing behind a long banner that says “Friendship Walk 20th Anniversary – Celebrating 20 years of ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’”. In the background is a crowd of people gathered for the event and a bright green canopy of trees, fresh from a sharp shower of rain. It rained similarly on July 2, 1999 as well. Part of a small truck decorated for the event is also visible. On the top right of the graphic is the logo created for the anniversary events – a rainbow-coloured graphic showing outlines of human faces and footprints combined in an artistic manner. The logo has text that says “Kolkata Friendship Walk ’99 – 20th Anniversary”. Photo credits: LGBT-India and Prosenjit Pal. Anniversary events logo credit: Rafiquel Haque Dowjah

Vartanama, Jun '19
owais on the 20th anniversary of ‘Friendship Walk ‘99’, which grew into the ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’

Then: Change is the only constant.
Now: Change is the only constant.

Then: 1999.
Now: 2019.

Then: Calcutta.
Now: Kolkata.

Then: Maiden event.
Now: Anniversary.

Then: 15 queers and friends.
Now: ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ now attracts thousands of walkers.

Then: ‘Friendship Walk ’99’ started as the only pride march in India.
Now: Several cities now have their pride marches, in addition to many other celebrations of non-normative sexualities, gender identities and existences.

Then: We needed to persuade others and even ourselves to get to the point of having conducted the event.
Now:  It happens for it must.

Then: No NALSA. No Navtej.
Now: Yes. And yes.

Then: Started with me sweating like a pig in labour; ended with us swimming on the pavements, for it had rained cats and dogs while we walked.
Now: Hope it’s not the same – my body that has aged more than 20 years in two decades wants an easier time.

Then: I needed the approval of society at large to stand by my truth.
Now: I don’t give a flying fu$k about who thinks what about me.

Then: Bengal had a very strong and vibrant left; liberals and centrists seemed rightists.
Now: The left seems dead. Liberals and centrists are increasingly seen as leftists. The right is seen as the place to be.

Then: I came from a city in which Gandhi was revered and Godse reviled.
Now: I come from a city that has elected as MP, a woman who has openly said that the Mahatma was the traitor and his killer, the true nationalist.

Then: I was hopeful of the future.
Now: I have given up on it.

Then: I was certain that Essentialism was essentially right and Social Constructionism was completely wrong.
Now: Like in everything else, I take beliefs, including my own, with a pinch of salt. Truth like all else in life is certainly something different from the images created for me by my survival-oriented mind.

Then: I could trust the stalwarts of my queer family without question.
Now: Many of those stalwarts have now stalled and are now more senile than sensible.

Then: I defined myself as a committed top.
Now: I define myself as an opportunist slut.

Then: Out queers (other than Hijras) were countable on the fingers of one hand.
Now: We are no more ‘countable’, other than grammatically.

Then: My most favourite movies – Mother India, Navrang, Mughal-e-Azam.
Now: My most favourite movies – Mother India, Navrang, Mughal-e-Azam.

Then: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Now: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The author was one of the 15 who participated in ‘Friendship Walk ‘99’, the first edition of ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ – Editor.

About the graphic: Top left – participants gather at the starting point of ‘Friendship Walk ‘99’ at Park Circus Maidan on July 2, 1999 (photo courtesy LGBT-India); below – six of the first time walkers (first six individuals counting from the right) at the starting point of the 20th anniversary events for ‘Friendship Walk ‘99’, also at Park Circus Maidan (photo credit Prosenjit Pal); top right – logo for the 20th anniversary events (artwork credit Rafiquel Haque Dowjah).

Author Photo


owais calls himself the ‘sucker for love’ – for knowingly, he not only trusts, but lives on that rainbow which does not actually exist.

Comments So Far

  • Image Rajib Chakrabarti   rajibc2028@gmail.com 07-07-2019 | Reply

    Many things have changed. Some haven't.

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