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Ready For An Indo-Pak Pride Meet?

“When the fight for independence from colonial rule was a collective and successful one, then it makes sense to have put a collective fight against the colonial mindset and discriminatory laws introduced by and borrowed from the Britishers,” says Nickhil Sharma, on behalf of the Indo-Pak Pride Collective.

A group of peacebuilders, the collective has been active in the educational space and in organising events like joint celebrations of Independence Day. And this Pride month, on Sunday the 27th of June, 2021, they are hosting the first Indo-Pak pride event “Rainbow Over Wagha.”

When I asked Nickhil about how the event came to be conceptualised, he informed me that one of them from Pakistan came up with this idea to celebrate Pride month together. “It was, in fact, the colonial rulers with their Victorian morality who institutionalised a set of laws and social norms reeking of homophobia and transphobia,” the concept note of this event declares, urging people from both the countries to “deliberate on the roots of discrimination against queer people.”

“Not only this,” the articulate concept-note-cum-invite reads, “the queer community in both countries continue to be oppressed under laws that make it difficult for them to live equal, safe, and dignified lives like their heteronormative counterparts. Socially, they face discrimination in livelihoods, education, as well as residence, amongst others.” Even though, in Pakistan, homosexuality remains a criminal offence, scrapping of Section 377 three years ago hasn’t brought any substantial improvement in the everyday life of Indian LGBTQIA+ people either.

Nickhil explains, “in both countries, we see that the queer community faces so much stigma, discrimination, and even violence. There are also similar stereotypes claiming that this movement is a western idea and, thus, against our culture. On the contrary, the history of the subcontinent actually shows acceptance and accommodation of the diversity of gender and sexuality. For the LGBTQIA+ community, the India-Pakistan divide becomes blurred. The community is [unified] as societal setups and families are similarly structured. Therefore, issues are also similar—the discrimination, the desire, and the hope for acceptance and inclusion. We aim to amplify the voices of the community by bringing together community members and allies from both sides.” Not only that, the collective aims to rekindle and tie the concept of peace building closely with social justice in a way that it doesn’t only broadly speak about initiatives that bind societies but include minorities, be it religious or gender-based, in this ongoing exercise to tackle institutionalised exclusion effectively.

Excerpts from an email interview with Nickhil Sharma.

Q. Who are the board members/founding members/organizers of this meeting?

We had initially decided to organise this event individually but eventually, we organised ourselves as a group which we are calling the “Indo-Pak Pride Collective”. We are a mixed group of academicians, students, and professionals working in diverse sectors, but we have all been voluntarily involved with India-Pakistan peace building. Some of us identify as queer while the rest are allies.

Q. What do you aim to achieve with this?

This event will be a coming together of the queer community and allies from both sides of the border. As a dialogue between people of the two countries, the event aims to shatter jingoistic stereotypes and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and narratives of peace to express cross-border solidarity. It will also be a platform for the queer community to share their experiences, educate to sensitise, and form cross-border solidarity.

Q. In India, though Section 377 has been read down, the discrimination persists. From a legal standpoint, how are things in Pakistan with regards to LGBTQIA+ rights?

While homosexuality remains a crime in Pakistan, unlike in India, there is still some freedom to express sexuality and talk about it on social media and on the Internet. In Pakistan, transgender people, however, have better rights as, in 2018, a legislation was passed to ensure equal rights and non-discrimination of transgender people in various sections of society.

Q. And would we be seeing frequent events like this in the future?

We are still very new, but we have gotten a lot of momentum and people are very interested! So we do hope to carry this momentum forward.

Event itinerary:

  • Welcome address
  • Panel discussion: Deepak Kashyap (Indo-Canadian counsellor and LGBTQIA+ rights activist), Muhammad Moiz (Pakistan’s beloved drag queen comedian), Dr. Sakshi Mamgain (Indian doctor and advocate for LGBQTIA+ healthcare rights), and Aradhiya Khan (Pakistani trans rights activist)
  • A talk by Tulika Bathija on “Creating Awareness about LGBTQIA+ among Young People: Insights from an Educator”
  • Pride trivia quiz
  • Music and poetry performances

The pride meet will be held on the video-streaming application Zoom on Sunday, 27 June 2021 at 6:30 PM (PST)/7 PM (IST). Please write to the collective at indopakpride@gmail.com for any queries.

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Saurabh is working as a writer in a research and advisory IT consultancy firm. He frequently writes about gender and sexuality, and book reviews on an array of platforms.
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