While the Pride March in Pune has been postponed due to Covid, a new manual will be released by the Maharashtra Queer Network to "increase the quality of legal assistance" provided to the LGBTQIA community.

There will be no Pride March in Pune this month despite the gradual unlocking of restrictions due to Covid-19. The planned 10th Pride March, which was to be held in the last week of March, was earlier postponed with a plan to be held in May. Now, it has been postponed again.

“We hope to conduct the Pride March by Diwali but depends on the Covid situation. While several activities have been cut down, as part of Pride Month, we will be conducting a workshop and releasing a manual to empower social workers on how to address concerns of the LGBTQIA community,” Bindumadhav Khire, writer and coordinator of the Maharashtra Queer Network (MaQN), told The Indian Express.

However, as cases of violence and extortion against the community are on the rise during the pandemic, this Pride Month, the focus is on strengthening the community and dealing with legal cases. The manual has documented the learnings of social workers and organisations working on these issues for the past two decades. “The aim was to increase awareness and understanding of social workers, community members, and organisations handling typical LGBTQIA legal cases and increase the quality of legal assistance provided to LGBTQIA victims,” Khire added.

The Supreme Court judgment on Section 377 in September 2018, decriminalising adult, consensual intercourse between same-sex individuals, has brought about a paradigm shift in the way the law perceives same-sex relationships, Khire said. However, he pointed out that despite the rapid changes in law, the community continues to face widespread discrimination at home, in the neighbourhood, and at the workplace.

“Instances of mental and physical abuse by family members, neighbours, colleagues, and society are too many to count. Vulnerable young adults have been driven to suicide due to abuse and ragging. At times, they have been thrown out or unable to take the abuse anymore, have left their homes for good, or have run away with their life partners. Many of the closeted community members continue to be extorted under the threat of being outed,” Khire said, adding that these were the voices of several in the community who have been regularly reporting such incidents.

In the past two decades, social workers, most of them with no legal background, have handled such cases according to their capacities and have tried to assist and seek redress for the traumatised victims. According to Khire, the new generation of social workers and LGBTQIA community members run into many hurdles when handling legal issues and crisis cases related to LGBTQIA communities. “Inexperience, insufficient knowledge of the law, absence of linkages/referral systems, financial constraints, lack of understanding of their limitations and the risks involved, inability to devote sufficient time for crisis cases, lack of objectivity, absence of documentation of past experiences, lack of understanding of choices involved in taking any decision and the potential risks involved with each of these choices makes their task difficult. On a personal level, handling legal and crisis cases take a toll on the volunteers… many face great emotional stress and eventual burnout,” Khire said.

A day-long workshop will be held for social workers working on legal cases of LGBTQIA on June 26 so as to empower them to support the victims, Khire said. The manual has a foreword by former ACP Bhanupratap Barge who has been supporting the LGBTQIA community in Pune for the past decade.

Barge said, “I hope the manual will be helpful to the LGBTQIA community and hope it gets updated… and translated in Marathi as well… as the law evolves,” he said.

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