The first time I heard of a Pride march taking place in Mumbai, I scoffed. Hard. Knowing what Mumbai is as a city, I was pretty sure it was going to be impossible to organize a march within its legendary chaos. It is a city that is:
1. Filled with out and loud queer individuals and
2. Doesn’t have all the permissions in place.
But that was a dumber me back in 2014. Having attended 5 Pride marches since then, I am glad I was born gay in Mumbai. There is a clear amalgamation of traditional aesthetic and modern-day romance up for display on the streets. It’s vibrant, it’s joyful, and it’s extra AF.
The group that brings all of this together is called Queer Azaadi Mumbai (QAM) collective. The entry to the collective is open. Anyone who wants to volunteer and work for the Pride committee joins them and then responsibilities are allocated accordingly. It’s a proper democracy in that sense. But there’s always differences of ideologies during planning meetings and it’s a mammoth task bringing everyone together on the same page. The collective also selects the theme for the Pride. While last year’s theme was #377QuitIndia, this year it’s #PrideForAll. This is only fitting since the infamous Section 377 has been read down and now the community shifts its focus on the bigger problems at hand.
Kolkata was the first city to host a Pride walk back in 1999 followed by Delhi in 2003 and Mumbai in 2008. Since then other cities such as Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Kerala, Guwahati, Jaipur, Patna and Lucknow have held their own Pride marches.
The Pride march in Mumbai begins outside the August Kranti Maidan in Grant Road at 3PM on February 2, and takes about an hour to kick off before returning back to the assembly spot by 5 PM. After which, people disperse and head to post-Pride parties.
As January, officially dubbed as Pride month in Mumbai, is just behind us, let’s get to know some of the people who work together to form the Queer Azaadi Mumbai (QAM) collective.
Vicky Patil is the man behind all the police permissions. It might seem like nothing, but handling a crowd of over 10,000 people takes several police personnel. And Vicky Patil has been entrusted for the past decade with the task of getting the cops to agree to watch over the march. The first time he ever went to a cop station, he propped a dildo on the commissioner's desk like an absolute badass to explain the importance of condoms. You can hear the entire story here.
One of the sweetest voices in the Indian LGBTQIA is also its fiercest. Everyone is aware of Giani’s presence at all times because she commands a room and yet has so much warmth. Having worked closely with The Humsafar Trust, she’s is a pivotal figure when it comes to ideating and getting the Pride’s logistics together.
Fondly known as Koni, Roy is a force to be reckoned with. She works closely with LBT (Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans) women and makes sure there is adequate representation at the Pride through several activities and fundraisers held before the Pride.
Everyone knows Harrish. From appearances on reality show to having a film based on his life, he’s been a key figure in the fight for equal rights in India. He is seen at the forefront at every pride, ready with a handy megaphone, leading with chants, and getting everyone’s adrenaline pumping. It’s a sight to behold as Harrish becomes the unofficial maître d' of the Pride march, raising slogans like battle cries.
When researching this piece, I asked several queer friends who their favorite person working behind the scenes is, and almost all of them unanimously chose Patankar. A man of quiet demeanor, he’s seen at every Pride standing on his toes a la Kate Winslet to see if the parade is progressing in a neat order. One wrong turn and the whole thing can turn into an organizational nightmare. It helps that he has a killer smile too!
The CEO of the The Humsafar Trust brings together all the people working for Pride. All the pre-Pride planning meetings take place under HST’s roof and Vivek oversees everything—lending his jovial personality to discussions and themes that the marches have tackled all these years. You can see him at the helm of the Pride alongside Ashok Row Kavi and Suhail Abbasi taking genuine Pride in what they have managed to bring together through years of perseverance. He was around during Mumbai’s first Pride which saw a handful of people and has been a constant bridge between LGBTQIA individuals from across different decades.
Umang is an LBT group that brings together women from different backgrounds, while amplifying the issues they face. They ensure that there is a clear balance and equal representation across the spectrum at Pride. They also have fun activities planned through January to raise funds and mobilize the LBT population of the community.
Jadhav’s passion towards the community knows no bounds. She loves dancing, she loves planning, and she can pose the house down with her stunning looks! I still remember my first interaction with her. She opened up about working as a sex worker and the problems transgendered individuals face in India, mostly unheard and often ignored. She’s faced much tragedy, and yet is one of the boldest, bravest and in-your-face people you will meet, especially when it comes to tackling issues. Therefore she’s a strong and positive influence on several trans* youngsters. She proudly represents the T in the LGBTQIA and has played a pivotal role in mobilising fellow trans* members to come out and march proudly at the Pride.
The diva of #VivaVikhroli (Parmesh has been trying for ages to make this hashtag happen) is the culture connoisseur during the Pride month. Parmesh organizes a host of events as the head of the India Culture Lab inside the Godrej One campus in Vikhroli. And does it with so much grace and rigor, that you are automatically drawn to everything he organizes. He’s got an eye for talent and a penchant for event planning, which helps several queer people attend debates, performances and film screenings during the Pride month.
Run by the coolest gay desis, Gaysi is also the official post-Pride party organizer. But they are equally involved in the beginning of the Pride-planning and work alongside QAM to ensure a smooth transition from parade to party every year. And the post-Pride party of course is one for the herstory books.
A huge thank you to the QGraphy team. They are the awesome people who capture photos and videos from every Pride march and share them for the world to see. If you are a young queer photographer and interested in working with queer events, go sign up with them.
So get out your rainbow banners and tiaras and head down to August Kranti Maidan, Mumbai, on Saturday, where you will meet so many of our unsung heroes, and give them a tight hug.
Follow Navin Noronha on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE IN.