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Hundreds march in rare gay march in Calcutta

June 29, 2003

Calcutta Gay Pride (Photo: AFP) CALCUTTA - More than 100 people marched Sunday in a rare gay rights parade in the eastern Indian metropolis Calcutta, braving the rain and the glares of onlookers unsympathetic to their cause.

Carrying umbrellas in the rainbow colors of the gay rights movement, the marchers held up banners urging more acceptance for sexual minorities, including one saying "Let us love and be loved."

Armed police escorted the marchers through the muddy streets to avert trouble. While Calcutta has had small gay "public walks" before, organizers said Sunday's march was hoped to be Calcutta's most visible rally for homosexual rights.

Hundreds got out of bed early to watch the parade, many out of curiosity -- and some clearly opposed to the march.

"We wonder what's happening in Calcutta, the seat of culture in India," said Suman De, a retired government servant who came upon the march as he returned from a morning walk.

"Authorities should immediately stop such activities. Otherwise our youths will be lost in the merry-making of the gays."

Sunita Agarwal, a housewife, said she watched the march from her home as it was "unique." "My son and daughter woke up early to watch the parade," she said.

Marcher Agniva Lahidi, said the rally was meant to show that "supporters of the right to alternative sexuality have come out of the closet and they are ready to make their presence felt in the city."

"We would like to send a message to our relatively conservative society, where even kissing is frowned upon," Lahidi said.

Rafiquel Haque Dowjah, secretary of the gay advocacy group Integration, said the march was part of a month of events in Calcutta to promote homosexual rights, including a panel discussion, the launch of a newsletter and artistic events including a ballet and music video.

India's courts are reviewing laws that, while rarely enforced, make consensual gay sex an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

While there are few open homosexual communities in most of India, the western metropolis Bombay and the southern hi-tech hub Bangalore enjoy reputations as more hospitable to gays and lesbians.

- Sapa-AP 

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