MUMBAI: In a landmark of sorts for queer rights in India, all the police permissions for an LGBT Pride March set for January 31 will be in the name of a woman. This is a possible first for the country, as police permissions are always sought by men. The move is aimed at combating both homophobia and patriarchy.

Sonal Giani is no stranger to police stations; she has been in and out of police stations over the last year, as she was involved in handling crises situations while working as advocacy officer for gay rights organisation Humsafar Trust.

She approached four different police stations for permission for the march, which will take place from August Kranti Maidan to Opera House and back on January 31 at 3 pm.

“The police were friendly and I did not face any stigma while asking for permissions for the march. Instead, they were curious to know more about the community,” she says.

At a time when few women in India are out of the closet, Giani acknowledges the fact that seeking permissions for an LGBT pride march in her name is a huge leap forward for gay rights in India.

At a personal level, too, it has been a milestone for Giani, who came out with her sexuality a few years ago. “When I joined the movement there were very few women at the forefront,” she says.

While many in the police force knew of the movement, some were new to the idea. “We’d sit with them for half an hour and explain what the march was about,'” says Giani.

“Wherever we go, we also talk of our work on HIV prevention and hand out condoms. We did so in the police stations we visited, too. Once the police knew of our work, they would open up to us, clear some of their own doubts on the subject and even ask us questions such as the correct way to wear a condom,” she adds.

Giani has had some amusing encounters at police stations. “There have been times we were told to ensure that women did not wear short clothes. It’s funny that while the cops saw no problem with women being lesbian, they wanted to ensure women at the march were well covered,” she added.

At some police stations, while discussing homosexuality with the police, the cops would confide in Giani of their suspicions over a particular policeman or policewoman being gay. “I’d leave my card with them, so that they could contact me if they needed to. I’d also suggest they ask the person in question to attend the march,” she added.