Staying shut in the closet: Why divorce wasn't option for Priya Vedi

  • Vishakha Saxena, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 23, 2015 17:13 IST

Priya Vedi was a young, promising doctor who worked as an anaesthetist in Delhi. On Sunday, she committed suicide alleging her husband Kamal Vedi was "gay or bisexual" and had been torturing her for dowry.

People ask why Kamal married a woman or stayed married despite being unsure about his sexuality and why Priya chose to slash her wrists at a hotel in Delhi instead taking a divorce but the truth isn't that simple or easy.

What's worse is the bigger picture--which suggests that Priya and Kamal are probably one of many such couples in the country who spend their lives living lies. Truth be told, Indian society's stigmatic attitude towards sexuality, and marriage is not a big secret.

Case in point: Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises sexual activities "against the order of nature", including homosexuality.

Effectively according to Section 377, it is against the law of nature to be a homosexual--a contention that activists and the LGBTQ communtity have actively protested against around the world.

"Section 377 pushes people deep into the closets of shame. It breeds contempt. Section 377 adds stigma to a community that is already battling with a stigmatised society," wrote LGBTQ activist Harrish Iyer (who has been quite vocal about his sexuality himself) after the news of Priya's suicide broke.

This unjust provision of law, however, is just a part of a larger problem. Majority of our society treats homosexuals worse than criminals. They are called names, termed 'sick' and treated as pariahs. Abuse and vitriol, especially for those who aren't coy about their sexuality, is not uncommon.

Further, in the tradition of arranged marriages, it often doesn't matter if one wants to marry someone else or get married at all. Bring in sexuality in this equation and one can only imagine what anyone struggling to identify their orientation goes through.

For many middle-class Indians, family pressure can get quite overwhelming. After a certain age it is expected of an individual to get married, "settle down" and start a family. In such cases, living life as whom they are and with whom they want is hardly option.

"By lying about your sexuality you are basically living a lie, and any lie will consume you personally," says Dr Rachna Singh, a psychologist at Gurgaon's Artemis Hospital.

According to Dr Singh, an individual in such a situation can react in two ways. "One can either internalise the problem which often leads to depression, anxiety and even diseases or they can externalise their feelings and have extreme violent episodes."

The final nail in the coffin is the stigma against divorce.

In her post, Priya wrote how despite her suspicions about Kamal and their almost non-existent sexual life, she "decided to help him to be as a wife". According to a report in the Indian Express , parents of both Priya and Kamal appeared to know about his sexuality and yet, everyone tried to make the marriage work.

The bitter pill is that our society tends to judge people and function conforming to rigid 'principles'. And as long as it remains so averse to acknowledging a person's individual right, it can only make more Priya and Kamal Vedis.

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