Why a queer flashmob in Delhi is historic for LGBT rights

Coming out in a city that can be remarkably regressive is a powerful political statement.

 |  Miscellany  |  4-minute read |   27-07-2015
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Delhi held its first queer flashmob on July 26 in Connaught Place. A flashmob, for those of you who may not be aware, is a gathering where a bunch of mostly young people congregate at a public place and launch into an impromptu dance to raise awareness on an issue. While Mumbai and Bangalore have had such events centred on LGBT rights, this was a first for Delhi.

Watch the video and you will see the manic energy that the participants exude as they dance to Bollywood numbers. In the very first scene, two women who hug and simulate intimacy are driven apart by a bunch of men. This is a common enough sight in awareness campaigns, meant to induce recognition in the viewer, but what comes next is cheekier. A guy makes moves on two men – both of whom he goes on to romance separately. If the idea was not merely to fight for rights, but for a broader queer space, the flashmob had it down pat.

Delhi is the capital of the country and the seat of the judiciary and media, but it can also be a remarkably regressive place. Unlike Mumbai, whose status as India’s business capital emanates from its big-numbers contribution to the country’s GDP, Delhi’s businesspersons are mostly small traders whose politics skew conservative. Move out of the posh environs of south Delhi and the city stretches into its deeply religious and traditional heart.

The Delhi gay scene is made up of a battery of personalities, most of whom are not out. These are teachers, engineers, doctors, bankers and chefs. They lead modern lives, yet continue to remain in the closet due to the oppressiveness of their social conditions. I am not suggesting that this is true for Delhi alone, but Delhi as a city preserves an ethos where everyone is very interested in everyone else’s life, and so it becomes all the more difficult to break those shackles and live as one would like to.

This thing – poking your nose in everyone’s business – is counted as a universal negative, but in fact its social pervasiveness cannot be traced to necessarily malign origins. In India, certainly in small towns and perhaps even in some big city pockets, you grow up not merely at home but in a community, amidst a web of unspoken but sturdy connections. In such a milieu, coming out can mean the loss of much love. There can be other considerations such as property and inheritance, but I am talking about less tangible fears here.

For people from such close-knit communities, the prospect of non-acceptance can be formidable. I have seen countless instances of gay people defending lazy bigotry with loose self-justification: Maybe they are not bad but just ill at ease with the idea, or that they have no clue what any of this is, and so on. A friend who grew up in a Marwari family in Patel Nagar used to go into long spiels about his family and neighbourhood that were meant to cast them in a benign light. The matriarch of the house was, for example, a Krishna bhakt and so religious a woman that the family ate only after the Lord had blessed the offering. When he wrapped up his conversation by telling me that he was unwilling to come out, I could relate to his fear of losing that sense of rootedness.

But ultimately, I could not bring myself to agree with his decision. As a gay person, if you keep giving yourself reasons for not letting go of the robustness of your current relationships, you will not only never come out but also ultimately risk losing your mind. When people say it takes a particular courage to come out, I don’t know if that is true. What does courage mean when you can’t breathe because your life is a lie?

Which is why the flashmob in Connaught Place is such exciting news. Times are changing and young people these days have greater access to global events shaping this conversation. For children of traditional families, as I am assuming some among the Sunday dancers must have been, to come out and dance with abandon on the streets without a care in the world is as much a political statement as the next. May their tribe increase!


Vikram Johri Vikram Johri @vikramjohri

I write for a living. Sometimes the words comfort the heart too.

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