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"It's not like there are no queer or trans persons in small towns. Can someone say that there are singers and actors only in big cities?" says 28-year-old Kajal, as she sits down for an interview with The Quint, alongside her 22-year-old partner, Bhavna.
"I come from a small town in Haryana. She comes from a small town in Punjab. We are there. There are others just like us, but they don't come out," adds Bhavna.
Kajal and Bhavna have been together since 2018, and are among the 20 petitioners who have moved the Supreme Court seeking marriage equality.
They are now living in a small town in north India, but have been constantly on the move, after being denied basic rights owing to their relationship. They reflect on why the right to marriage is not an 'urban-elitist' idea, as contended by the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre.
The Couple's First Meeting
Bhavna first became friends with Kajal on Facebook in 2018, after she was introduced as her cousin's friend. They kept exchanging messages, but the first time they met in person, sparks flew.
"The first time I saw her (in person), and she saw me, she put her head down. I kept watching her. Yeah...you can say...love at first sight. Then she took my number from her cousin," Kajal tells The Quint.
But growing up queer in a small town in India was not easy.
"The first challenge is that you don't have friends. When my friends in school came to know (about my sexual orientation), they moved away. Then I made friends in college. It was the same with people I met at my job. My friends' boyfriends told them not to stay with me. But I don't understand what I should do. Sometimes I think that I should leave this place, but then, what if I go to another place and the people are the same? How long will I keep changing cities?Kajal to The Quint
"Relationships matter. People's thinking should change. We have stayed in Delhi, we have also stayed in a small town in Punjab. But just that there's no one in the big cities, and there's no one in the smaller towns, who have the knowledge to support queer couples," Bhavna added.
'Want the World To Know We Are a Couple'
"People ask us if we are sisters. Where do I hit my head? I look nothing like her, and sometimes, I feel very bad when they say such things. People don't even assume that we are roommates, they just think that we are sisters," says Bhavna.
"If something happens to my partner, as a nominee, or even in LIC, they will ask for nominee. When LIC people know that our relationship is lawfully recognised, they will also know," she further says.
There are so many couples like them in smaller towns, they add.
"There are many queer and trans persons in small towns. Give them the chance sometime, and see how they will come out. And how much their confidence will increase. Like how we found the confidence to come out after Section 377 was read down, they will also come out if they are given basic rights."
Dreaming of Their Wedding Day
As the couple await the Supreme Court verdict, they cannot help but dream about their wedding day.
An excited Bhavna tells The Quint, "I want to wear a lehenga and chuda. She will dress up however I ask her to."
Completing her sentence, Kajal adds: "Whichever ceremonies we go to, she selects my clothes, my style. I am a blank paper, and she can write whatever she wants on it – and that will be right."
(This was first published on 17 May 2023. It has been republished from The Quint's archives in light of Supreme Court verdict on same-sex marriage pleas on 17 October.)