In 2018 the country woke up to the shocking news of a lesbian couple in Gujarat who ended their lives. In the suicide note they left behind on the banks of the river in which they had reportedly jumped, it was written, “We have left this world to live with each other. The world did not allow us to stay together. We did not have any men with us." It is believed that they ended their lives because they faced resistance from society. This old news of a same-sex couple dying by suicide is still saddening and exposes the social stigma that is attached to same-sex relationships in India. It isn’t surprising though, because literature and real-life are full of narratives where same-sex or gender non confirming love has either remain unfulfilled or ended in the death of one or both the partners.
Love, especially in a politically divided world continues to be an act of revolution, an act of defiance. It could be an act of love that defies heteronomative ideals or love that defies caste norms. But slowly and gradually acceptance to same-sex love is seeping into our society, even in tier two and rural spaces. From the same state, in 2020 comes a tale of acceptance of lesbian love and this time with judicial intervention.
Gujarat Police’s ‘First’ Lesbian Couple
Mahisagar in Gujarat, which has been the hub of dinosaur tourism in India, has been in the news for past few months because of a lesbian couple who have been living and working together in the Gujarat police. The women, both of whom are 24 years old, have been living together and have come out to their parents, society and their workplace. They have entered into a maître karar or friendship contract, which is a legal contract, which traditionally allowed Hindu men to legally have mistresses because bigamy was outlawed under the Hindu Marriage Act. Now, this form of friendship contract is being used to legitimise same-sex relationships in the absence of marriage legislation.
However, they are in the news because they approached the Gujarat High Court for protection, fearing retaliation from their parents. They allegedly received threats from their parents, who did not understand the nature of their relationship, to leave work and come back home. They first raised the issue of their safety with the SP of Mahisagar and allegedly did not receive a prompt or positive response.
The couple moved the Gujarat High Court through a Public Interest Litigation and asked for protection. The High Court ruled in favour of the couple and directed the SP of Mahisagar to provide armed protection, if required, to the couple. The Court reiterated that their safety is of utmost importance and the police must ensure they remain protected.
New Era for Same-Sex Love?
The Gujarat High Court's decision is a ripple effect of decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018. The devastating incident of 2018 and the courageous one in 2020 stand in sharp contrast to one another. The first decade of new millennium saw the LGBTQIA movement culminating in the courts. Since then the movement has sought its remedies and rights from the judiciary. There have been some hits and misses but the ultimate victory has been in 2018 when homosexuality was decriminalised.
The impact of decriminalisation is felt only when the effects are felt by ordinary, everyday people. That is the connection between law and social change. If a lesbian couple in Mahisagar can find the courage to move to the Gujarat High Court seeking protection and the Court rules in their favour then it is a step in the right direction.
Why It Matters?
While love, the kind that defies societal norms of gender and caste, still has to fight for acceptance and in some extreme cases even survival, this story is a welcome change. A landscape of love stories that is littered with loss, violence and death has a new addition of hope to it. The battle for acceptance is a long drawn one. These female policewomen may have received protection, but they are yet to receive acceptance from their families. In a changing landscape we have an active judiciary that is standing up to protect the rights of the LGBTQIA community. While this is heartening momentarily and a battle won, the war for acceptance is far from over.
Priyanka Chakrabarty is an intern for SheThePeople.TV.