We’re Here, We’re Queer

LGBT bar nights might be the new it thing in Mumbai

The first edition of Qnites in Mumbai was hosted at blueFROG, a live music club. GITANJALI DANG FOR THE CARAVAN
01 September, 2011

IN MARCH 2009, images from the personal archive of Cory Walia, one of India’s foremost makeup artists, were on display at The Guild Art Gallery in Mumbai as part of a curatorial project I organised. The photographs in question were taken between the 1980s and the early 1990s. Collectively, they depicted a very urban and very flamboyant queer culture in India, allowing visitors to the gallery to gaze at soirées in private venues that were never part of the city’s mainstream consciousness. With Walia’s consent, we made select images available online, allowing them to reach a larger audience. Four months later, Delhi’s High Court read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and decriminalised sexual relations between consenting adults of all genders. It was time for the queer movement to announce its presence even more publically—and to take those urban soirees out of apartments and into the city’s nightlife.

Celebrations are an important aspect of any movement and the Indian LGBT community’s emergence into the public sphere can be charted through the changing character of its celebrations—from the city’s notoriously small, closet-sized apartments and seedy nightclubs to the streets and more mainstream nightclubs. This June, Zenzi, a popular Mumbai bar, launched a monthly LGBT bar night called Khush Nights, hosted every first Friday of the month. And to celebrate the second anniversary of the amendment of Section 377, DJ Ma Faiza organised Qnites—the LGBT community’s biggest and loudest event yet—at blueFROG, a live music club.

There’s no cause for alarm; the party does not signal an end to the pride parade. The street party—Mumbai had its first in August 2008—has been shifted to a more amenable time of the year.

But the absence of the parade from our monsoon calendar wasn’t the only reason the first edition of Qnites drew overwhelming crowds. The event was planned in association with other groups whose supporters came out in full force. As expected, blueFROG could not accommodate the incoming crowds and more than 500 people were turned away. Some members of the community who weren’t able to enter were later heard suggesting that future Qnites be open only to queer people. Should this ever be the case, it would be a shame indeed; a move like that would alienate and not ameliorate.

Of course, no Mumbai party is complete without a visit from our local dignitaries. Our very own curmudgeonly cops swooped in and disrupted the party when they insisted that stalls offering makeup, hairstyling and tattoo services be shut down. Later, some plainclothes cops were seen bopping their heads. They, along with the others who made it in, were treated to burlesque, standup comedy, a queer ‘market’, rousing guitar work and singing by Alisha Batth and finally a foot stomping set by Ma Faiza. The party went on late into the night.

And then, a mere two days later, our Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Ghulam Nabi Azad, declared that homosexuality was “unnatural” and a “disease”. While the queer community in India is able to celebrate a legal decision, there are still many other battles to be fought.