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Police interrupt Mumbai Pride fundraiser

A fundraiser for next week’s Queer Azaadi Mumbai (Mumbai Pride) was interrupted by police on Friday, despite being a wholly legal gathering.
Haji Ahmed Sahab Bawa after breaking up the party

A party fundraising for next week's Queer Azaadi Mumbai (QAM) was interrupted by police and a self-appointed ‘moral guardian’ on Friday night. At 11.45pm, a party of around 270 people in a lounge in the Oshiwara area of Mumbai was stopped when a man claiming to be from a political party brought the local police.

Haji Ahmed Sahab Bawa lodged a complaint with the police and demanded that they accompany him to the party. The party organisers gave the police enough reassurance that there was nothing illegal happening, but the evening was brought to a standstill. Bawa tried to intimidate the crowd by threatening to call the media and earlier in the evening he had filmed people at the party without their permission.

'He kept screaming, "these parties are illegal",' Pallav Patankar, one of the organisers of QAM who was at the party that night, told Gay Star News. He explained that Bawa referred to a supreme court challenge to the 2009 ruling that decriminalised homosexuality in India. But Patankar said he told Bawa that the challenge does not make anything that was happening at that party illegal.

Bawa claimed he was a member of India's National Congress Party, but in the aftermath of the incident the political party won’t acknowledge any connection with him. 'There are lot of people in India who are moral guardians who like to attack these [LGBT] parties,' said Patankar. 'He's a self-proclaimed activist and wants publicity.'

Bawa told the Times of India: 'We are not against the community. Our objection was that they provide "dark room" in such parties to promote prostitution so we informed the police about it.' Senior police inspector at Oshiwara police station Dilip Rupwate also told the newspaper: 'We checked the premises on Ahmed’s complaint but found nothing objectionable.'

Patankar said the police were passive in their handling of the incident.  'After the police found that all the permissions were in place for this party, they didn’t stop this guy,' he said.

Patankar complained to the police that their fundraising night, which aimed to raise $5,000USD for QAM, failed to reach their targets because of the interruption. The police apologised and said they had nothing against gay people.

Patankar and the QAM organisers have lodged a complaint with the police over Bawa’s behaviour and are in the process of deciding how much further to take it, aware that they don’t want to give him too much publicity.

The QAM organisers said in a statement: 'This incident has once again highlighted the importance of the Pride march and we will appeal to the entire LGBT community to come out in large numbers and make Pride Walk 2012 a big success. It's all about us being ourselves and our right to exist as legal and responsible citizens of the largest democracy in the world.'

Queer Azaadi Mumbai runs from 21 to 28 January. 'Azaadi' means independence or freedom in Hindi. 

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