Indo-Pak Pride Collective, a group of young peace-builders from India and Pakistan decided to celebrate the beautiful spectrum of gender and sexuality together for the first time this Pride Month on the 27th of June. This event was titled “Rainbow Over Wagah: First Indo-Pak Pride Meet.” As they mention in their concept note, the fluidity of gender and this rainbow of sexuality have been part of our rich history and culture. It was colonization that attempted to “civilize” our diverse and inclusive society by institutionalizing laws reeking of homophobia and transphobia.
Their main aim was to remind the two nations and societies of their duties to reject obsolete laws and embrace a culture that celebrates diversity. Indo-Pak Pride Collective in collaboration with Queergarh, organized “Rainbow Over Wagah: First Indo-Pak Pride Collective.” The Indo-Pak Pride Collective is a group of young peacebuilders of India and Pakistan who identify as queer or are LGBTQIA+ allies. The collective stands for equality and inclusion of humans beyond all binaries. Queergarh is a Chhattisgarh-based youth-run LGBTQ+ initiative.
I had the privilege to attend this beautiful event titled “Rainbow Over Wagah: First Indo-Pak Pride Meet.” The event started with Ilma Iqbal briefing us about the aim of this event; to get past the colonial hangover and celebrate the history and the diversity of the two nation states. She mentioned how this event was curated with love and hope for a brighter tomorrow, where no one is made to feel unloved and under-respected. Once Ilma was done introducing the event and the organizers, Nickhil Sharma took us through the sequence of events.
First panelist for the day was Aradhiya Khan, a 22 year old Pakistan-based trans rights activist. She initiated the discussion by answering Nickhil’s question about the obstacles she faced as a trans activist in Pakistan. Aradhiya recounted her experiences as a trans rights activist and also talked about how cis folks can be better allies to trans folks. It is as simple as just understanding the needs of the trans people and supporting them. According to Aradhiya, a proper dialogue is the best solution. She wishes that cis folks talk to trans folks and mostly, listen to them.
Next panelist was Deepak Kashyap, an Indo-Canadian counsellor and LGBTQPIA+ activist. His main area of focus and research is mental health and sexuality. Nickhil asked him why desi queers are more prone to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Deepak began by talking about how children are born into desi cultures with the burden of upholding their family name on their shoulders. He mentioned how our cultures are honor-based cultures and not dignity-based cultures. The idea of sacrificing our individuality and unique selves for the common good is respected and encouraged. This induces a lot of shame-based trauma in the South Asian queer people.
Deepak also included South Asian women in his answer. He added how they believe (or are made to believe) that the society’s dignity lies somewhere in their hymen. Moreover, Deepak went ahead to also talk about the strengths of the South Asian people; how we can talk about them and build upon them to make our cultures more inclusive and accepting.
Dr. Muhammad Moiz
Dr. Muhammad Moiz was the next panelist. He is a public health professional, a social media influencer and also one of Pakistan’s well-known drag queen comedians. The person behind the viral character Shumaila Bhatti is Moiz. He participated in the discussion with the idea that we need to zoom out historically. Dr. Moiz beautifully reminded us that in the South Asian linguistic context, gender is a performance. He used an example to justify this statement. When we say woh aaya or woh aayi, the woh remains common. It is the aaya, aayi that changes. The discourse then ventured towards how the queer community in South Asian countries is just always trying to replicate the queer community in the West. We forget how there is so much strength in our own identity.
Additionally, Dr. Moiz made an argument that queerness in the South Asian context has fundamentally been Islamic in nature.
Dr. Sakshi Mamgain
Next up was Dr. Sakshi Mamgain, an India based doctor and an advocate for LGBTQPIA+ health. The founder of an organization called United for Transgender Health is Dr. Sakshi. On asking for some tips that queer folks can use to look out for doctors that we can trust, Dr. Sakshi rightly answered that it’s not on us queer folks to look out for people. It is on the doctors to make health-care more accessible and queer friendly. She recounted how when she was studying, there were medical textbooks that declared homosexuality as a sexual deviation, as a perversion. One more thing that stuck with her was how one of the textbooks called lesbians “mentally deranged.”
The medical curriculum and reading about the LGBTQPIA+ rights is something that United for Transgender Health as an organization is really passionate about. They intend to familiarize students with the needs of the queer patients.
Question & answer session
Then, the platform at Rainbow Over Wagah: First Indo-Pak Pride Meet was open for questions from the audience. The first question was: Is the fight with society or with our family the bigger fight? Along with their opinions, both Deepak and Dr. Moiz said that they believed the fight with the family to be the bigger one. He shed light upon the fact that how historically, queer people have made their own families, their own communities. Dr. Moiz added how khwaja siras or hijras are nothing but a historical system of sisterhood. Aradhiya expressed how the community that she is a part of, the system she lives in, doesn’t see caste or religion as a barrier; their shared experiences and the love they get is what connects them.
“We only have each other. We are going to stand for each other. It’s only gonna be us but we’re gonna be okay.”Dr. Sakshi
Creating awareness about LGBTQIA+ among young people: Insights from an educator
After the questions, the next segment was about creating awareness about the LGBTQPIA+ among young people. Tulika Bhatija hosted this segment. She is an educator currently based in Japan. Tulika took us through an educator’s perspective by putting forth the many ways through which we can try and make inclusivity and acceptance a crucial part in the lives of young students.
As an educator, she told us, before she began educating others, she had to educate herself. One of the many other things she mentioned was how it is important to have gender neutral uniforms in schools. Most of the schools in South Asia have uniforms tailored to heavily fit the notions of the binary. Another basic thing that we can inculcate is to teach children to use gender neutral language. Her idea was to center queerness, to normalize in whatever the teachers teach. She also founded the Nagoya Action Heroes in Japan. They advocated for queer-affirmative training for the staff and school leadership team.
Trivia quiz: Pride edition & performances
After a serious discussion, Pragya Narang hosted a Trivia Quiz: Pride Edition. The quiz had brilliant questions and the audience was actively answering the questions.
Post the quiz, Queergarh had lined up enigmatic performances to lighten the mood. Akshay Mankar hosted this segment. They had Toshi, who recited two lovely pieces of poetry that cheered the audience. Subsequently, Ketan Singh Rathore performed a piece in Kathak and hit a home-run with his moves. Next, Deepanjali Chhetri from Darjeeling took our breath away with her dance performance. Faeez Ahmad danced after Deepanjali and everyone enjoyed his elegance and grace thoroughly. Next performer was the youngest; a seventeen year old girl from India, Shubhangi. She sang the song Alag Aasmaan by Anuv Jain. Someone said in the chat that her voice was like a river and that’s how melodious she was. Each of them claimed that it was an honor for them to be able to perform at this event, Rainbow Over Wagah: First Indo-Pak Pride Meet.
Concluding the first Indo-Pak Pride Meet
The event ended with Devika Mittal expressing gratitude to everyone that made this event happen. She was also thankful for everyone that attended. Thus, “Rainbow Over Wagah: First Indo-Pak Pride Meet” was a testament to the fact that even though we are across borders, this community that we share it remains just the same. The sense of belonging that I felt while attending this event was priceless.