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NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - Thousands of people danced, sang and cheered through the streets of Delhi on Sunday in a colorful and vibrant celebration for the first gay pride parade since gay sex was made legal in India.
Under a huge rainbow flag, to the sound of drums, whistles and horns, 2,000 gay activists and supporters clad in feather face masks shouted slogans and waved placards as they marched through the capital of this still sexually conservative country.
"Today is about saying that we are gay and we are proud. We are not going anywhere, we are a part of society, and today we can celebrate being different," said Amit Agrawal, one of the parade organizers.
The parade brought traffic to a halt in the commercial heart of the city, leaving bemused drivers watching in astonishment as kissing male couples, dancing transsexuals in bright pink skirts and thousands of rainbow flags went past.
While the previous two annual marches were billed as protests against legislation that criminalized homosexual sex in the world's largest democracy, in July last year a landmark case in the Delhi High Court finally overturned the colonial-era Section 377 of India's penal code after nine years of legal action.
"Last year it was about protest, but this year it is all about celebration. It has only been a year, but it has been a huge year," said Hillol Dutta, a gay activist.
Yet despite the ruling, gays still face a social stigma in India, where hugging and kissing in public even among heterosexual couples is strongly frowned upon.
Strong religious and family values mean many homosexuals choose to hide their sexuality for fear of discrimination, while attacks by police, especially in rural areas, are common.
"It is still socially unacceptable. Many gays have to keep their sexuality concealed, many are married," said Ashok Das, who was not taking part in the parade.
But attitudes are slowly changing, especially in the cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Eighteen months ago, only one bar catered to Delhi's gay community, but today a host of nightclubs host regular gay nights as owners and promoters look to cash in on the 'pink rupee'.
"Change is good, but you have to take small steps. The youth have accepted it, but I think it will take at least 10 years before society in general accepts homosexuals," said Saurabh Gaur, a heterosexual man who had come to support a gay friend.