Same-sex love: The family abuse that led to the Madras HC order
Two university students, whose plea for police protection in the Madras high court (HC) resulted in a landmark order on Monday, suffered months of family harassment and abuse and even a concerted violent bid before approaching the judiciary, conversations with the petitioners, lawyers and their activists revealed.
The two women – aged 20 and 22 — met in 2019 and fell in love but battled fierce disapproval from their conservative families who lived in the rural parts of Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district. Facing increasing strictures, they ran away from home in February 9 this year to Chennai.
In Chennai, they tried to live independently and reached out to lawyers to file a petition in the high court. But back in Madurai, both sets of families filed missing person FIRs in two separate police stations, prompting policemen to travel to Chennai to track them down.
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“This is a common tactic used by families to force queer people to come back, and intimidate them,” said Manuraj S, the petitioners’ lawyer.
The family response
Things came to a head in the second week of March, when both sets of parents, along with roughly 10 policemen showed up in cars in the locality where the two women were living. “They caught hold of the women and threatened them to go back,” said Manuraj.
After a heated altercation, the women escaped and approached the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care’s (PCVC) safe home in Chennai. But despite the bitterness, the petitioners said they are ready to stay with their families if accepted with dignity and tolerance.
“We are ready to live with our parents but if only they accept us and our love and feelings,” said the 22-year-old petitioner, who declined to be named because her safety continues to be a concern. “We have been insulted by everyone but now we need to grow and succeed in life, and live our life in front of everyone,” she added.
But such reconciliation may be difficult because the court-mandated counselling failed to break any ice with the parents.
Psychologist Vidya Dinakaran, who counselled the families, found that both sets of parents felt a great amount of shame, fear and social disdain upon them because of their daughter’s same-sex relationship.
“Both parents felt let down that their daughters have not paid heed to their sentiments and belief. Both parents expressed concern over the safety, security and future of their children. However, they also expressed their belief that their daughter’s homosexual relationship would cause damage to their future,” the court order read.
“Among the queer and trans people we work with, many want families to not cut them off, but eventual reconciliation is not possible because the parents refuse to see same-sex relationships as anything but abnormal and fear that it will isolate them from immediate social circles and bring shame,” said Swetha Shankar, director of client services at PCVC.
During the court hearings, the parents met the women on two separate occasions but without any success. “It was very emotional, they were trying to change our minds, but we were strong in our love,” said the petitioner.
Where prejudice collides with law
Such predicament is common for queer people in India, who continue to live in fear of social censure and violence despite the decriminalization of homosexuality by the Supreme Court three years ago. Since 2018, same-sex couples have approached high courts in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bengal, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, seeking protection from their families.
In all cases, the courts have sided with the couples. But this hasn’t always meant the end of hardships for couples.
Rekha Bairwa knows it only too well.
The 24-year-old Dalit woman from Rajasthan’s Dausa district approached the high court in February 2019 to seek protection for herself and her partner, Usha Bai Mahavar. Bairwa and Mahavar met six years before in their native village, Gudha Ashikpura, and slowly fell for each other.
After the apex court struck down Section 377, they went to a local temple and got married. Almost immediately, they started receiving threats from both families and local families. Both their relatives warned that they would be killed for their transgression, and the local police refused to interfere into what it saw as a family matter.
When their petition came up on February 26, justice Kanwaljit Singh Ahluwalia noted that both the women were adults and asked the police to provide protection. “The case was a landmark for us too because we had never argued such a unique case. The women were very happy with the order,” said Bhim Sain Bairwa, their lawyer.
But two years on, little has changed for the Dalit women. Bairwa and Mahavar are still apart and find no way to live together due to social censure and family hostility. They are not financially sound enough to run away.
“We see each other once in a while, whenever I can find time from my NREGS shifts. Some villagers call us slurs and abuse me when I go out; they are forcing Usha to marry, but we still love each other,” said Bairwa over phone.
Two thousand kilometres away, the two women petitioners are aware that their fight isn’t over. Manuraj said they are still worried about their protection and safety, and the women haven’t left the safe house yet. But they have big dreams: of jobs and a home together. “We want to...live our life in front of everyone. And help others like us.”
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