12th Mumbai Pride March in limbo as Mumbai Police withholds permission, citing safety issues over 'possible CAA-NRC protests'

Three days before this year's edition of the Queer Azaadi Mumbai Pride Parade, the Mumbai Police has denied permission for the event to be held at the historic August Kranti Maidan, which has traditionally served as the starting point of the march.

Anvisha Manral January 30, 2020 00:40:00 IST
12th Mumbai Pride March in limbo as Mumbai Police withholds permission, citing safety issues over 'possible CAA-NRC protests'
  • Three days before this year's edition of the Queer Azaadi Mumbai Pride Parade, the Mumbai Police has denied permission for the event to be held at the historic August Kranti Maidan.

  • The police was withholding permission as it had received information that the rally would raise slogans against CAA-NRC, which could create safety issues.

  • Calling the decision undemocratic, activists say "no government can stop our annual pride parade."

Three days before this year's edition of the Queer Azaadi Mumbai Pride Parade, the Mumbai Police has denied permission for the event to be held at the historic August Kranti Maidan, which has traditionally served as the starting point of the march.

Mumbai-based NGO Hamsafar Trust, along with the organiser of the parade, Queer Azaadi Mumbai (QAM) Pride 2020 March, had sought permission to hold the event at the August Kranti Maidan. Even though permission was initially granted, the organisers announced via Twitter that the authorities had rescinded permission in an official letter from Gamdevi Police Station, signed by senior police inspector Rajendra Mohite.

The letter (see below) said that the police was withholding permission as it had received information that the rally would voice dissent against the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), apart from raising awareness about LGBTQ+ rights. The letter also stated that if the Pride Parade was held without permission, a case would be filed against the organisers. Apart from revoking permission, the letter also states that there are prohibitory orders in place in Greater Mumbai from 23 January to 6 February, banning assembly of five or more persons.

12th Mumbai Pride March in limbo as Mumbai Police withholds permission citing safety issues over possible CAANRC protests

Members of the queer community and allies expressed disappointment with the Mumbai Police for expecting the Mumbai Pride Parade 2020 to exist in a political vacuum, at a time when over 2000 transgender persons have been excluded from the list of National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam.

"Queer lives are multidimensional. We exist not only in the forefront or on the margins, but also in intersections of caste, religion and creed. While securing permission, the police officials told us that there should be no talk of CAA-NRC at the march. However, there is no way to stop people from walking with banners as queer lives are being affected by the act. Are we going to police everyone who decides to voice their opinion at CAA-NRC at an event?" asked Harish Iyer, LGBTQ+ activist.

Since the QAM began organising the Pride March in 2008 — a decade before the Supreme Court ruling struck down parts of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which penalised same-sex relationships — the Mumbai Police has ensured the parade takes place peacefully each year. Their current stance therefore, seems particularly puzzling.

Acknowledging Mumbai Police's cooperation in the past, Kanishka Chaudhry, a member of QAM, termed the current refusal an "undemocratic approach". Chaudhry added that the authorities are worried that there might be clashes at the rally due to differing opinions on CAA-NRC. "The Pride Parade has always been political. So, there would be voices both pro and against CAA-NRC at the march. But there is a dilemma here as even though the Mumbai Police wants to help us, they seem to be under pressure. Otherwise it would have been a clear 'no' from their end."

While participants and members of the queer community empathised with the police force, they felt 'lack of safety measures' could not be reason enough for the march to be cancelled. "In a democratic country it’s our legal right to protest, assemble and march. And it's their legal duty to protect and enable us to do so. CAA-NRC are also queer issues. Hence, we cannot shy away from them. And cancelling the march in the name of our safety is definitely not the answer. Today it’s this, tomorrow it will be something else. In this fashion they will simply keep us in a corner of the city, in the name of our betterment," said Saakshi Juneja, co-founder, Gaysi Family.

12th Mumbai Pride March in limbo as Mumbai Police withholds permission citing safety issues over possible CAANRC protests

Therefore, there is a growing consensus among organisers that there is no way to regulate views on CAA-NRC at the Mumbai Pride Parade 2020 due to its all-pervading effect. File image. For representational purposes only.

Police officials asked the organisers to move the march to an alternative venue — Azad Maidan — but were insistent that attendees refrain from expressing their views on CAA-NRC, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum. The organisers said this demand was not feasible considering how detrimental certain government policies, such as the Transgender Persons’ (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, have been to the queer community. To not discuss issues that have disempowered a marginalised community, CAA-NRC included, would defeat the purpose of the march, they added.

"It is a severe blow to freedom of expression. Their fear of the pride parade including protests about CAA-NRC is actually well-founded as they affect queer people for sure, especially persons who may not have their identity papers in place because they are in the process of transitioning. Their rights cannot be denied," said Sridhar Rangayan, filmmaker and activist. As for the venue, holding the march at Azad Maidan would reduce it to a "gathering", which it essentially isn't.

The consensus among organisers seemed to be that there is no way to regulate views on CAA-NRC at the march due to its all-pervading effect "but march we will. No government can stop our annual pride parade".

Even as Queer Azaadi March navigated the rigmarole of securing permission, holding the pride parade at August Kranti Maidan remains its priority; asking participants to not raise CAA-NRC related slogans is not a possibility.

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