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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Hundreds of people danced, sang and cheered in a gay pride parade in India's capital on Sunday, the first since the country's top court reinstated a ban on gay sex in the world's largest democracy.
Multi-colored balloons, masquerade masks and wigs, a huge rainbow flag and a St. Bernard dog ushered in the seventh Delhi Queer Pride parade, with many shaking their hips to drum beats.
Participants chanting "Azaadi" (freedom) and shouting slogans such as "I'm gay, that's OK" carried banners and placards demanding their right to love.
"We are making a statement that we exist. We are not a minuscule minority. Deal with it," said Mohnish Kabir Malhotra, 27, a publicist and one of the organizers of this year's event.
In December, India's Supreme Court threw out a 2009 ruling by a lower court that had decriminalized gay sex, saying only parliament could repeal Section 377 of India's penal code which bans sex against the order of nature.
The British colonial-era law is widely interpreted to mean homosexual sex, and can be punished with up to 10 years in jail. Many choose to hide their sexuality for fear of discrimination.
Some participants said they had little faith that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government would revoke Section 377, despite having a majority in the lower house of parliament.
Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is a right-wing nationalist outfit perceived to be more conservative than the previous Congress-led government.
Modi has not publicly commented on the issue of homosexuality, although his colleague Rajnath Singh had called gay sex "unnatural" in the wake of the December court ruling. Some BJP politicians such as Arun Jaitley have said that gay sex should be decriminalized.
A poster at the parade depicted Modi's face filled in with the colors of the rainbow, the symbol of the gay rights movement, and the caption "I love Amit Shah", referring to the president of Modi's political party.
Some participants said the prime minister did not mean the gay community any harm.
"Modi is a very wise person. I don't know whether he'll support or not support, but he's not going to do anything which is going to harm any Indian citizen's right," said Rudrani Chettri, 36, a social worker and LGBT activist.
Some of the biggest cheers at the parade were reserved for Dora, a St. Bernard dressed in a T-shirt promoting LGBT rights, brought by her owner, who works at the U.S. embassy.
The parade brought traffic to a halt in central New Delhi, with bemused drivers watching the proceedings from the sidelines.
"As long as it's consensual, it should not matter to anyone. They shouldn't force themselves on anyone," said Kapil Yadav, an auto-rickshaw driver who was among passers-by and commuters who stopped to watch the procession.
Editing by Krishna N. Das and David Clarke