Queer couple dreaming of a baraat in rural north India ask how marriage equality is an ‘urban elitist’ matter

Unlike many queer couples from metro cities, Ms. Bhawna and Ms. Kajal say their families and friends do not understand cohabitation, so the legal stamp of marriage is of utmost importance to live a dignified life

April 18, 2023 10:03 pm | Updated April 20, 2023 05:26 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Kajal, 28, and Bhawna, 22, both hailing from small town in northern India, ask how their appeal to enjoy the same rights as heterosexual citizens is urban or elitist.

Kajal, 28, and Bhawna, 22, both hailing from small town in northern India, ask how their appeal to enjoy the same rights as heterosexual citizens is urban or elitist.

Among the 20 petitioners seeking legalisation of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court are a couple who say their lives are proof against the Centre’s stance that the petition reflects “urban elitist views”. Kajal, 28, and Bhawna, 22, both hailing from small town in northern India, ask how their appeal to enjoy the same rights as heterosexual citizens is urban or elitist.

The couple lament that, even five years after they started living together, they are still seen as ‘roommates’. Ms. Kajal and Ms. Bhawna — who both preferred to use their first names only — hail from small towns in Punjab and Haryana respectively, where there is no acceptance or even acknowledgement of a queer cohabitating couple. For them, the petition to legalise same-sex marriage is a step towards being recognised as a couple and an attempt to secure the civil rights that heterosexual couples have complete access to.

Also read | No absolute concept of a man or a woman, says SC in same-sex marriage case

Last resort

The women moved the court, filing a petition for marriage equality in 2019, as a last resort to ensure a safer life and to gain the right to live with dignity and self respect, and the right to adopt children. “Like heterosexual couples, queer couples should also have the choice to get married and be treated as equal citizens,” said the queer couple in unison.

Since Ms. Bhawna ran away from her parents’ house in Bahadurgarh, Haryana, her family has looked down upon the relationship, stating that it has no future as it “lacks” legal and societal recognition, her partner tells The Hindu. “On various occasions, they would tell me that if I can’t bring a baraat (bridegroom’s wedding procession) to their doorsteps for their daughter, then I should stop wasting Bhawna’s time and just disappear from her life,” says Ms. Kajal.

Hounded by family

While none of their families accepted them, Ms. Bhawna’s family hounded and threatened both of them and made multiple false accusations against Ms. Kajal. “After my family found out about my sexuality, they started abusing me and threatened to stop my education. They even attempted to get me married to a man, but I persisted,” said Ms. Bhawna.

Over the past half-decade, the couple has had to resort to getting a court order to be able to cohabit. They have had to move from one shelter home to another and live in constant fear, despite having the legal freedom to reside with the person of their choice, and even after the decriminalisation of Section 377 by the Supreme Court. “Bhawna’s family would follow us wherever we have tried to live, coercing her to leave, threatening us and damaging my reputation in whichever neighbourhood we went to reside,” recalls Ms. Kajal.

Legal sanction critical

Ms. Bhawna and Ms. Kajal represent many such queer couples from small towns in India, who need the legal sanction to live a dignified life, where their relationship is acknowledged. “Unlike many queer couples who hail from metro cities, we are not fortunate enough to be surrounded by friends and family members who understand cohabitation. For them, the stamp of marriage is of utmost importance,” explains Ms. Kajal. The sales executive tells The Hindu that everybody, queer or straight, are born equals and should have the same rights. “Not allowing marriage equality is discrimination,” chimes in Ms. Bhawna.

The lack of societal recognition and the constant threat from their birth families have taken a heavy toll on the two. Ms. Kajal says that there were days when she has had “suicidal thoughts” because of the lack of acceptance. They believe that the legalisation of same-sex marriage is a step towards visibilising the many queers who have had to hide their relationships from the society, and towards treating them as equal citizens.

‘SC will not wrong us’

Despite the prejudice-laden comments from the Central government and the religious petitioners opposing marriage equality, the couple believes that the Supreme Court will not wrong them. “The law has been changed earlier as well, and this time too we are hopeful that the law will take a stand in favour of the individuals on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum by providing them marriage equality,” says Ms. Kajal.

The queer couple is eagerly waiting for the courts to give their verdict in favour of same-sex marriages, so that they can proudly present rural north India with the spectacular sight of a woman bringing a baraat to another woman’s house. “We want to show them that queer relationships are not a phase,” exclaims Ms. Kajal.

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