The Federation of Indian Associations barred the South Asian Lesbian Gay Association from the huge annual India Day Parade in Manhattan on Sunday August 16. This is a roundup of community statements and developments on this breaking-news controversy, intended for use by journalists, activists, and interested community members.
The gay lesbian group SALGA and its allies fought a long battle in the 1990s for inclusion in the India Day Parade, which draws more than 50,000 people to march down 13 blocks of Manhattan to celebrate India’s independence day. The group won inclusion in 2000 and has marched without incident for several years. This year, the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA), which puts on the annual event, failed to respond to the gay group’s application to march, effectively barring it from the August 16 parade.
Activists organized protests within the march and along the parade route and urged supporters to telephone and email the parade organizers. This was the 29th annual parade in New York and the first year that the parade was televised by TV Asia and webcast live.
The controversy came on the heels of India’s recent court decision, in July, that cited “the inclusiveness that Indian society typically displayed” as the basis for overturning a 150-year-old anti-gay law.
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Gay press reports FIA apology over India Day Parade
NEW: Wednesday Aug 19, 2009 — A gay online news site reported today that an executive of the group that organizes the annual India Day Parade in Manhattan apologized for the exclusion of a gay and lesbian organization from the parade.
Nirav Mehta, executive vice president of the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA), told a reporter for EDGE that the exclusion of the South Asian Lesbian Gay Association (SALGA) was due to a volunteer’s clerical error.
“We apologize,” Mehta told the reporter. “There was some confusion and mistakes, and we will be more than happy to welcome them next year. They can be part of our parade, and we will have no problem.”
The latest statement contradicts SALGA’s experience of the application process as well as earlier statements by FIA officials. Emails and phone records retained by SALGA document an FIA representative stating in July that SALGA’s request was forwarded to the FIA board for approval. FIA President Dipak Patel, reached by phone last Friday, stated emphatically that the exclusion was not an administrative error.
Desis United urges supporters to sign online petition
This link <http://citizenspeak.org/node/1720> leads to this petition:
From: Your Name <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: Shame on NY/NJ/CT FIA for excluding LGBTQ Indians
Your Personal Statement
I’m deeply disappointed that the tri-state FIA chose to exclude gay and lesbian Indians from the 2009 India Day Parade in New York City.
2009 was a special year for all Indians, because it marked the beginning of the end of the British-era restrictions on gay and lesbian Indians. All people of Indian origin have reason to be proud, seeing India throw off antiquated colonial laws and enter the 21st century.
Why was the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association’s application to march in the India Day Parade ignored, and their follow-ups not acknowledged?
Why didn’t the FIA directly contact SALGA or other Indian LGBTQ cultural organizations to participate in the Parade on this particularly historic year?
The FIA’s actions are an embarrassment to our community. I hope you will get in touch with SALGA to resolve this issue, and ensure that any issues are resolved before next year’s India Parade.
123 Your St.
Yousville, YO 12345
NEW: Photographs from SALGA’s march in the India Day Parade are available here as a Flickr stream and may be used freely by news organizations; MUST be credited to “Roopa Singh (http://politicalpoet.wordpress.com).”
India Day organizer says exclusion is like rejecting a college applicant
Two community members spoke separately with FIA President Dipak Patel on Friday afternoon, August 14, 2009. During the first call, from Anirvan Chatterjee, Mr. Patel vehemently denied any knowledge of the SALGA petition. By the time of the second call, he apparently knew more. From an email written Friday by community member Barnali Ghosh (published with permission):
I just got off the phone with Dipak Patel, president of the tri-state FIA, the organizers of the New York FIA Day Parade. We spoke for about 10 minutes.
Mr Patel was polite and willing to talk. He said “anyone is welcome to march,” but quickly clarified that there was a process for organizations wanting to march, likening it to that of a college where some “some people get in, some people don’t.”
However, when asked if the exclusion of SALGA was an administrative error, he very forcefully said no.
When asked what he thought about this possibly becoming a larger scandal (given that the exclusion was already on Facebook and Sepia Mutiny), he said “you’re using words like scandal now, I have to ask you to stop.” He then went on to explain that the media has already seen all the good work they’ve been doing.
When asked if someone at FIA could contact SALGA to resolve the issue, he said he’d refer it to his media team.
Patel made a big deal of the fact that the event will be televised live, for the first time ever. (I wonder what he’s going to think of annoyed queer Indians marching in the Sakhi contingent, being telecast live.)
Protests planned at Sunday parade;
email campaign targets celebrities, organizers
Statement from SALGA/SAKHI on Friday, August 14, 2009 (see Facebook event page):
On Thursday July 2nd, the Delhi High Court delighted gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Indians and their allies by reading down Indian Penal Code Section 377 to not include consensual gay sex.
It is most disappointing therefore that in this year, with such a monumental victory for sexual minorities in India, the FEDERATION OF INDIAN ASSOCIATIONS decided not to respond to our petition to march at the annual India Day Parade.
We ask LGBT South Asians and other progressives to stand with us and against discrimination.
Thanks for your emails and interest in the protest against SALGA’s exclusion from the India Day festivities in New York City. If you are in New York City on Sunday, Aug 16th, you could either join SALGA as it marches under the banner of SAKHI, a local women’s group that campaigns against domestic violence OR you could join a group of us as we stand on the parade route and protest against SALGA’s exclusion from the festivities.
1. Join us as we prepare protest posters at the Starbucks Coffee on Madison Ave and 41st St at 10 AM on Sunday August 16th. Feel free to bring your own posters to the protest.
2. Join us as we gather before the march and protest at 11.15 AM with the SAKHI contingent at 41st St at Madison Ave. If you’re looking for us, call me (Mario) on 646-884-3945 or Sapna on 202-641-8207.
If you are not in New York, you can write to Shilpa Shetty, who will be the Grand Marshal for the festivities asking her to speak against SALGA’s exclusion. Another of the chief guests for the evening is the artiste Jay Sean. You could write to the managing directors of his representative agency. Alternatively, you can write to the FIA (Federation of Indian Associations), the organizers of the festivities. It is imperative that we inundate the FIA with protest emails! Contact details are provided below:
Parade Grand Marshall Shilpa Shetty: firstname.lastname@example.org
Billy & Rob (reps of Parade Special Guest Jay Sean): email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
FIA President Dipak Patel telephone 973-464-4515, email@example.com
FIA office: firstname.lastname@example.org, 732-369-6626
Other FIA Executive Committee members phone numbers and emails
West Coast FIA includes gay group; solidarity petition planned
Shambu “Sam” Rao wrote, as part of an email discussion on the South Asian Journalists Association listserve, on Friday, August 14, 2009:
Just to make the point, Gay Indians and supporters are welcome and part of the largest Festival of India — West Coast — in Fremont, CA. The Festival is in its 17th year run by FIA NC [Federation of Indian Associations Northern California] and the non profit activist group Trikone has been a part of the Festival of India Fremont with a booth and even in the parade couple times. Members of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) another non profit also have taken part in the festivities. … Over the course of the many years of the festival, Indian senior citizens (straight) and housewives had spoken up at the FIA meetings to continue invite gays to the Festival whereas NY had even gone to court to bar participation.”
Trikone, the oldest South Asian gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender group in the United States, will have a booth in the India Day festival in Fremont, California, this weekend, August 15-16, 2009. Members plan to gather signatures on a petition in support of SALGA. The Trikone Co-Chairs are available for comment: Rakesh Modi, email@example.com, (510) 757-5726; or Priti Narayanan, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Commentary: One giant leap backwards for Indian-kind
On Thursday, July 2nd, I awoke to very exciting news from my native country of India. A decision was being made 10,000 miles away that would not only impact thousands upon thousands there, but also the community of Indians living in America. After over ten years of intense dedication and advocacy by lawyers, human rights advocates, public health professionals, civil society and many others, the Delhi High Court read down their decision to repeal Indian Penal Code Section 377. This antiquated law, left over from the British Raj, criminalized certain forms of sex that were defined as “against the order of nature,” among which consensual sex among two adults of the same sex was included. In other words, Section 377 made it illegal for gay Indians to have sex, but the Delhi High Court decided what many of us already knew was true: that such a law is unconstitutional and oppressive. This landmark decision, a true victory for human society as a whole and India in particular, was even beautifully linked to the ideals of equality and justice central to India’s freedom movement, as Justice Murlidharan quoted lines from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Objective Resolution’ from December 13, 1946 in the official Delhi High Court ruling.
It is disturbingly ironic then, as the community gears up to celebrate India’s 62nd year of independence, that the Federation of Indians in America (FIA), host of the annual Indian Independence Day celebration in New York City, has decided to shut out the area’s Indian American gay community. The South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA), a volunteer organization that has served the community for over ten years, submitted an application to participate in this year’s Independence Day festivities, only to be completely ignored and rebuffed by FIA. Despite SALGA’s participation in the same event in the past (which also only came about due to intense advocacy efforts, and at which only limited freedom of expression was enjoyed), the exclusion of SALGA this year of all years represents a backward move on the part of Indian American community organizing: a shameful reminder that while India may be moving forward on human rights issues, our immigrant community here is regressing to the point of ignoring its own members.
With all the progress that India has enjoyed lately, we should not allow FIA’s regressive actions remain unnoticed. Bring banners to the Independence Day festivities showing support for the area’s South Asian gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, and for the repeal of Section 377. Let the FIA know how you feel about their discriminatory practices (contact information below). We must take a lesson from the Delhi High Court, and represent ALL Indians this Independence Day, marching with history and not against it.
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Background and links
For those interested in covering or learning more about the story, below are backgrounders on the long history of this controversy. Journalists, please email me if you would like names and cell phone numbers of individuals who are willing to be interviewed on this topic.
On current FIA leadership:
DesiTalk.com article (July 2009) discusses younger leadership coming to the helm of FIA, wanting to stand “for the entire community on political, social, whatever issues.”
On the 1990s debates over SALGA’s exclusion from the India Day Parade:
New York Times news stories
Official New York governmental resolution
New York Community Board 5 is in charge of granting permits in Manhattan for parades and other street activities. Here is the New York Community Board 5 resolution of 2005 approving FIA application to hold the India Day Parade, noting that “The applicant has signed and agreed … that participation in the applicant’s events will not be denied to any group on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”
Article: Professor Svati P. Shah’s analysis about the controversy as it relates to South Asian American identity, as published in Samar magazine, 2001:
Book excerpt: brief chronology and narration of the movement built around SALGA’s exclusion from the India Day Parade, p176-178 of Becoming American, Becoming India: An Immigrant Community in New York City by Madhulika S. Khandelwal, an Urban Studies professor at Queens
[If this link does not work, go to http://books.google.com/ , search for “salga india parade” and click on the first link that comes up]
On the recent decriminalization of gay sex in India (July 2009):
The full text of the ruling can be seen at:
Selected news stories: