Dr Samhita Barooah
The eighth Guwahati Queer Pride was held on March 21. This year marked a transformation of diverse dimensions. The usual route – from Dighalipukhuri through Pan Bazaar and the High Court and back – was shifted to the Anuradha Cinema in Bamunimaidan area. Then, another round around Dighalipukhuri marked the finishing line.
While walking along the route – a five km-long one in the afternoon sun of a relatively warm Guwahati – I noticed the diversity of people expressing their hopes of freedom, desire, and imagination of another world that connects. I walked along with young people, friends from the women’s movement, organisational heads, publishers, book authors, collectives, professionals, students, research scholars, photographers, police personnel, musicians, poets, artists, legal experts, and journalists from different walks of life. Pride builds strength in survival, support and co-existence. I saw the fluid boundaries of humanity celebrating the moments of walking together, dressing up, embracing the rainbow on the eyelids, wings, head bands, umbrellas, dresses, shoes, colours from all around. There was a sense of acceptance in every face; and, in every person’s masked and socially distanced embrace. Intergenerational acceptance and understanding was widely reflected with queer elders walking along with the questioning, fluid, and fascinated young lot.
I was inspired by my mother singing a rainbow song in the morning on an audio recorder to be shared with the queer community; it made me emotional, listening to her sing for the cause of people villified for being who they are. While going to the Pride with my friends from Meghalaya and Nepal, we took general seats in the bus. Midway, we were pushed towards the reserved seats for women to make space for men to be seated in the general seats. I had wondered: where are the agender, non-binary seats? Out of 36 seats in a public bus, eight seats are reserved for women, two for the elderly, and two for disabled persons. When queer people like me claim seats meant for women, I intrude into already claimed spaces with the forced idea of being a woman imposed by the bus conductor. My lawyer friend did not want to shift from the general seats, but, I reasoned that when the women’s seats were empty and the men were standing, we could take up that space. This was probably due to the embedded patriarchy within me.
This year, solidarities were shown from across communities – from Amrapari located on a Char-Sapori in Barpeta through hand-stitched katha banners depicting gender diversity from across the spectrum of agender, asexual, intersexed, gender queer identities, to women weavers in Nagaland also gifting trendy headbands depicting diversity in sexual orientation and gender expression. Such diversities have sustained livelihoods and community identities within the queer rights movement, and the rural-urban connect to understand common threads of diversity, overcoming prejudices and age-old notions. E-rickshaws were also provided for people with comorbidities and disabilities to be able to participate in the Pride. I wondered if the people in uniforms also wished to participate in the parade as they were busy clicking pictures of the queer community dressed in diverse attires. The disruptive diversity of fluidities was displayed effortlessly, which must have been so liberating for those trapped in salaried uniforms. I was myself unlearning my own prejudices about various commonalities and differences. Are we ourselves prejudiced about us being in the peripheries and kept banging my head when the queer community representatives asked for a welfarist approach? I felt prejudiced when news reports shared about the Pride walk as a walk of homosexuals as I know that so many diverse gender and sexual identities do not identify as either homosexuals or heterosexuals. Some queer people shared that they walked together to make their presence felt. That was so crucial to bridge barriers of prejudices inside out. Many people might be curious of election mobilisations, NRC inclusion, marriage equality, non-discriminatory healthcare facilities, as essential commodities and vote banks. We are still struggling for civil, economic, social and cultural rights; collective and ecological rights are a far cry. Legal measures have forced people to crack closets, and state authorities are busy trying to diversify the census and beneficiary list. But, how can prejudiced mindsets be changed? My family accepts me as a queer person due to obligations and my educational qualifications; otherwise, I find myself as a huge liability in their hidden gestures, looks of pity and extreme religious ritualism to shed all sins off me probably.