On August 11, hundreds of Nepalese LGBT people took to the streets to celebrate Pride during the Gai Jatra festival.
According to the Nepal Home Page, the festival of Gai Jatra (also known as the procession of cows) is “one of the most popular festivals of Nepal.” Within the Hindu-majority nation, known for being socially conservative, the colorful Gai Jatra festival is often the only day the LGBT community feels free to present themselves the way they wish to, rather than as society expects.
Gai Jatra commemorates people who have died in the last year. It is so named because cows, considered by Hindus to be holy animals, are led through the streets to help lead the departed to heaven.
In Katmandu, the largest city in Nepal, thousands of people gathered on its narrow streets to watch as members of the LGBT community paraded through, carrying rainbow banners and balloons across the main square.
Gay Asia News reported that the festivities were “vastly different” than Nepal’s first Gay Pride, held in 2001, when “most participants wore masks to prevent being identified.”
However, while progress has been made since then, critics point out that LGBT rights and visibility are regressing. According to the nation’s first openly gay politician, Sunil Pant, a former member of parliament, the Law Ministry is drafting new civil and criminal codes that define certain types of sex, including all homosexual acts, as “unnatural.”
Under the proposed legislation, any homosexual sex acts would be punishable by three years in prison—even though previously, “unnatural” sex acts were only punished by up to one year or a fine.
Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of looking into the legalization of marriage equality in 2007, but no progress was made. At present, Nepal does not have comprehensive anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people.
Gay Asia News quoted Nepalese citizen Bipin Lamichane as saying, “When we gather again next year, we hope we are able to celebrate the new law.” He said he has been with his partner for five years.
Rights activists in the highly traditional country could face considerable challenge, though, given that just a decade ago, LGBT people were frequently arrested for having what the authorities called “unnatural relations.”
Still, some remain optimistic. A Hindu priest, Laxman Acharya, pointed out that average age of Nepalese citizens is twenty-one, and about 35 percent of the population is aged fourteen or younger. As a result, he expects that most Nepalese would be accepting of marriage equality.
He said, “It is not going to dent the culture or religion.”