It is the first new moon of the month of Bhadra in the lunar calendar. The Newars
of Kathmandu Valley, following an age-old tradition of Gai Jatra
, take to the streets to pay tribute to the people who have passed away throughout the past year. For the last decade, the Nepal Pride Parade has been celebrated on the day of Gai Jatra. Following this relatively new tradition, people of all genders across the spectrum also take to the streets to celebrate their identities while simultaneously advocating for LGBTQ rights.
The history of the Gai Jatra festival
goes back to the 16th century. Friends and families of people who have passed away in the previous year would parade through the streets, led by a cow that symbolized a wish for the departed souls to reach heaven. The king of Kathmandu, in an attempt to bring his wife out of her grief over losing her child, asked his people to add joy to this festival; as a result, people started crossdressing, wearing masks and using satire and humor to enjoy the day. The king’s modification to the festival has become a tradition ever since. It was because of the festival’s association with cross-dressing and satirical approach to addressing injustice that the day was chosen to mark an event regarding a sociopolitical cause.
When the pride parade first started in Kathmandu in 2001, only 49
people participated, and most of them used masks from the jatra to hide their faces out of fear of being subjected to social discrimination. A decade later the parade hosted more than 1,500 people which included not only locals, but also people from India, the U.K., Germany and Japan. The crowd marched through the streets of Kathmandu, spreading awareness about the existing laws supporting the LGBTQ community and demanding further rights and opportunities. The pride parades in the following years have had similar themes of awareness, acceptance and demand for recognition and equality in the constitution.
The Nepalese constitution makes it one of the most progressive countries in terms of LGBTQ rights. The country not only legally recognizes a third gender and allows its citizens to freely choose their identity on legal documents, but it also criminalizes any discrimination based on an individual’s gender. The 2015 Constitution of Nepal also replaced traditional gender-based terminologies with gender-neutral terms. Furthermore, the constitution allows people to change their gender and also permits all genders to be a part of the military. However, marriage and adoption for LGBTQ couples have yet to be legalized.
Despite the constitution protecting the LGBTQ community in Nepal, prejudice against the community still prevails. The social taboos and stigma surrounding the community are deeply rooted in Nepali society — especially in rural areas. Even the laws protecting the LGBTQ community are questionable, as they still do not grant equal rights
to the community. Although the government supports the community on paper, their actions say otherwise. Policemen have been found to make baseless accusations
and even arrests of people belonging to the community, and have even been slow to take actions or investigate verbal and physical attacks on people identifying as LGBTQ. Additionally, the government still hasn’t passed the bill legalizing marriage and adoption for the LGBTQ community — three years after the bill was proposed. These actions, or lack thereof, show how the country still needs to work on both passing bills and implementing them and educating its people about the LGBTQ community and their rights in order to protect the community.
The Blue Diamond Society
, a nonprofit organization which advocates equal rights for the LGBTQ community, hosts the annual Nepal Pride Parade in order to address the injustice faced by the community. The pride parade is not just a celebration of the existing rights and the freedom granted to the LGBTQ community, but it is also a means of spreading awareness about their struggles. The organization has had a significant impact in creating a positive attitude towards the LGBTQ community, especially among the youth. It has played a major role in pushing the government to grant rights to the community
and is still actively involved in the push for rights equal to those enjoyed by their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. Although this organization has been an effective strategy in attempting to improve the condition of the LGBTQ community, it still has a long way to go.
People who don’t conform to the traditional gender binary face discrimination in terms of education and employment opportunities
and are often ostracized by their families and community
. Rupesh Mandal, a transgender teen, was kicked out of her house by her father, who continued to harass her verbally and physically, trying to force her into being cisgender. Mandal was found dead a few days later, and the post-mortem suggested that she had been suffocated, thereby suggesting that she was murdered. The LGBTQ community has faced such dire consequences just because of their identities. They live with a constant fear of harm by not just outsiders, but even from their own families.
toward the LGBTQ community range from discriminatory slurs being thrown around as insults to severe physical and mental torture. They also face a great deal of harassment from officials while trying to access medical services — especially for sexually transmitted diseases. Hospitals treating sexual minorities have also been shut down, kicking out tens of people suffering from HIV/AIDS
. A 2014 survey
attests to this; it reported that 25 percent of gender minorities were denied healthcare because of their sexual identities.
While it is true that the LGBTQ community is protected by the law, we cannot deny that these laws have not been implemented properly. The people’s mindsets towards the community have yet to fully changed, even in the most progressive urban areas.
Nevertheless, celebrities identifying as LGBTQ and their social media presences have helped bring a positive change in the attitude towards the community. Anjali Lama, the first transgender model
to walk the ramp of Lakme Fashion Week in India, is looked at as an inspirational figure by LGBTQ youth in Kathmandu. Openly LGBTQ celebrities who advocate for their rights are normalizing the presence of the community in our society; this is a step forward in encouraging the LGBTQ community and representing them in the media.
Nepal has come a long way in terms of accepting the LGBTQ community, but it has in no way succeeded in fully protecting and normalizing it. The Pride Parade, with the Blue Diamond Society as its backbone, is one of the most effective strategies that recognizes and celebrates the LGBTQ community while also pushing for progress, but it is yet to overcome many challenges in order to fully support its members.
Aayusha Shrestha is a staff writer. Write her at email@example.com.