Interview SALGA, Priyanka Mitra : Walking The Parade

Last year we were told that our application wasn’t processed because of a clerical error, per FIA president Nirav Mehta, so this year we followed up on it several times. Finally, we realized that they were going to continue to ignore us so we informed the press and several politicians who are LGBT civil rights allies and straight South Asian community leaders. After press inquiries and pressure from politicians and community leaders, the FIA finally allowed us to march, on Friday, with less than 48 hours to the parade.

Now don’t we all love controversies. Or maybe it’s just the desi in me; the want for ‘drama’ surpasses all needs. Or maybe I should just blame Ekta Kapoor for this, had she not invented the “saas-bahu” sagas, I wouldn’t have let out a sigh of disappointment on missing out what could have been this year’s most dhamakedar Queer explosion.

What am I rambling about? Boss, I am talking about The South Asian Lesbian & Gay Association of New York City (SALGA) and their ongoing tussle with Federation of Indian Associations (FIA).

The story goes something like this; in 2009 SALGA had submitted a timely request to participate in the Independence Day Parade, which takes place every year on 15th August in NYC. Till the very last minute they were left hanging (how so Desi!!) and then shown the door. This year too, the same story was about to be repeated however prompt & smart planning worked for SALGA and the FIA was left with no choice but to accept their application with open arms.

Here’s a low down on what forced FIA to change its mind and why the parade holds such high value …in conversation with Priyanka Mitra (SALGA Political Chair).

Salga-NYC

Kabhi na kabhi haan, what happened with the SALGA’s India Parade application? Was it a misconceived judgement on SALGA’s part or miscommunication or something else altogether?

We submitted our application in a timely fashion and the package was signed for. Last year we were told that our application wasn’t processed because of a clerical error, per FIA president Nirav Mehta, so this year we followed up on it several times. Finally, we realized that they were going to continue to ignore us so we informed the press and several politicians who are LGBT civil rights allies and straight South Asian community leaders. After press inquiries and pressure from politicians and community leaders, the FIA finally allowed us to march, on Friday, with less than 48 hours to the parade. Apparently there was a ban on us, for completely unknown reasons, that they had neglected to tell us or the press at any time.

Why according to you is important for SALGA to walk on the Independence parade?

The FIA had no right to portray an image of a commercial, conservative India as though queerness is no part of India. Indian queers belong in any narrative of India, including the Independence Day Parade. One of SALGA’s values is to stand against discrimination and we couldn’t quietly sit back as the FIA discriminated against queer Indians.

What is SALGA? (A short brief)

The South Asian Lesbian & Gay Association of New York City (SALGA) serves to promote awareness, tolerance, acceptance, empowerment and safe spaces for sexual minorities and people of all gender identities, who trace their heritage to South Asia or who identify as South Asian. Our mission is to enable community members to establish cultural visibility and take a stand against oppression and discrimination in all its forms.  We pledge to encourage leadership development, provide multi-generational support, work towards immigration advocacy, address health issues such as HIV / AIDS, and foster political involvement in the interest of creating a more tolerant society.

Your advice to those struggling with gender identity issues?

Honestly, my job is not to advise but rather create spaces where people who struggle either with their gender identity or sexual orientation find empowerment. I stay away from advice as we come from different places: socio-economic backgrounds, religions, ages and face myriad struggles. To honor the individual struggle the best we can do, is to help create spaces so people can follow their own path and find their own solutions.

What changes have you, as a community group noticed in your daily interactions since the decriminalization of IPC 377 back in India?

I find that queer Indians in New York feel much prouder of their country since the down-reading of section 377. Last year when the FIA, also didnt permit us to march, there was visible anger from our community because we now legitimately felt that while India had legalized our presence, the version of India we were presenting in New York continued to reject us. I find that queer people from India have been more strident about demanding equality in the US since the down-reading occurred.

What has more influence; Law on society or society on law?

This is a difficult question to answer, but minority rights usually cannot be left to majority opinion. This is why in a democracy, it is important for the legal system to protect minorities. In that regard, when it comes to minority rights, I would say the law often influences society. However, society has to also push so that the legal system recognizes minority needs. Whether it’s the Naz Foundation or the ACLU, we need organizations to advocate on behalf of minorities, to change policies and make sure that minorities are given equal rights.

Do you think it’s easier for South Asians who live out of India to come out to their families?

Honestly, this is also a difficult question to answer because I know a lot of closeted South Asian in the US and in India, as well as a lot of out South Asians in India and in the US. I think what makes it easier for people to come out is financial independence, a supportive network of friends and family. This could happen in South Asia or the US. I think what happens in the US, is that it is frequently easier to be financially independent and there are a lot of organizations such as SALGA that  work on creating supportive networks for queer people. This aids our ability to come out. Not to say that this is not occurring in India now, it certainly is but it is a bit easier here.

About the author

MJ

Now 30, 100% shudh desi lesbian. Likes living large, and on the edge. Dislikes stagnation, fence sitting and hypocrites. Lives in a bubble of joy, with occasional lapses into drama queendom. Currently nursing a massive crush on actress Chitrangada Singh (kind of eerie, her resemblance to the late Smita Patil, don’t you think?). Aspires to build a fully functional support system for the Gaysi community in India. And most importantly, top the 'Hottest eligible desi-lezzie' list one bright sunny day.