Shortly before Priya Vedi, a doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, took her life, she wrote she believed her husband’s family was innocent but he was “a devil”. She alleged that the doctor she had been married to for five years had mentally tortured her after she got to know he was gay.
Like all of you, my first thoughts were why did he marry her, and more importantly, why did she stay in that relationship? As a highly educated, independent woman working in a metro, Priya always had the choice to walk out of her loveless, bad marriage. She instead choose to take her life.
And then I was reminded of my friend Amrita (name changed). An MBA graduate from one of the good colleges of Delhi, Amrita had everything going for her. The 35-year-old had a good job, a career that was going places and a family that desperately wanted her to get married.
Her parents lived in Bareilly and were proud of her but marriage is marriage in the Indian society. They had been busy matchmaking for years but to no avail. Before you judge them, they had even asked Amrita if she had a special someone in her life to whom she would like to get married. She had replied in the negative.
And then, after years of trawling through prospective grooms, the family met Ketan (name changed) who appeared like the answer to all their prayers. He was highly educated and was working with his father in the family’s prosperous bathroom fittings business. Outgoing, intelligent and good looking, the 37-year-old instantly hit it off with Amrita.
In India, parents believe arranged marriages should follow the dictum ‘shubhasya sheegram’ (let’s do it at the earliest). Within a week of the match being fixed, a heavy duty engagement ceremony took place, with friends and relatives in attendance. Amrita too was happy after years of assorted relatives asking her when she would tie the knot.
The marriage was fixed a month from the engagement. Amrita mailed photos of her engagement to close friends, one of whom was living in the US. Amrita received a frantic phone call the next day from the friend, and what she learnt sent her hopes crashing. The friend’s husband went to the same college as Ketan and he knew it for a fact that Amrita’s fiancé was gay.
When Amrita confronted Ketan, he accepted everything but begged her not to tell his parents. “They will never be able to face their extended family. They would never be able to accept me,” he said as he broke into a flood of tears.
His story came tumbling out as Amrita’s last shreds of hope vanished. Yes, he was homosexual and yes, he was marrying because of pressure from his family.
Amrita did not break the engagement, and she did not tell the truth to anybody either. “For the next week, I seriously considered getting married to him. The truth was I wanted to marry and I wanted to marry the person I had come to know in those few days. I wanted to believe I could change him. I knew I was being naïve but I was just not ready to accept it.”
Better sense prevailed and she finally broke off the engagement. She told her family that their temperaments did not match. All the familial pressure could not budge her. Her family still blames her for throwing away a perfectly good match. It doesn’t help that two years later, she is not married and Ketan is.
Amrita doesn’t know how Ketan’s wife is coping or whether she is aware of his sexual orientation. She only knows that she would find it impossible to trust anybody again. “I only know that if I had married him and then found out, I would probably not have walked out. No, I wouldn’t have,” she said.
She said she can understand Priya Vedi’s predicament. “Only someone who is in a relationship can judge what they are up against. I will not judge her, I would rather judge this patriarchal society which refuses to accept homosexuality and continues to stigmatise divorce. Homosexuality is still criminal in this country and let’s not even talk about how it is perceived by society at large.”
Amrita cited a recent survey in China that said less than 40% of women who are married to homosexual men opt for divorce even though they suffer rampant abuse. “There have been surveys which said over 16 million gay Chinese men are married to women. You think the situation here is any better? We share the same traditional set-up, only nobody has thought about looking at the ground situation here.”