Shock Therapy, Forced Marriage: Life of Small-Town Lesbian Couples
For many lesbian couples from small towns and villages, the choice is to either run away or kill themselves.
(This article was first published on 5 September, 2019. It has been republished from The Quint's archives in the run-up to the third anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India on 6 September.)
(This video has suicide references. If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Camera: Abhishek Ranjan, Vatsala Singh
Illustrations: Erum Gour
Anu* (28) and Laxmi* (30) killed themselves by jumping off Ahmedabad's Ellis Bridge. Anu jumped along with her son, who was only three years old. What drove these women to take the extreme step? The police found a suicide note written in lipstick on a plastic plate: “We did not have any men with us.”
The two wanted to make one thing clear: it wasn’t a case of honour killing. Then, why did they end their lives? They left another note on a pavement: "We had distanced ourselves from the world so that we could unite but the world did not let us live."
On 8 June 2018, they had run away from their homes, seeking a place where they could live together. Unfortunately, they never found one.
In this documentary, we met women in same-sex relationships who belong to small towns and villages. You will not see their faces. We won’t tell you their real names or where they live. These women are scared. Their lives are under threat. They know their truth will have severe consequences.
28-year-old Sanjana* is from Pratapgarh district in Uttar Pradesh. A Computer Science professor and a single mother, she has been in a relationship with her current partner since last year. But growing up in a village as a girl who likes other girls wasn’t easy.
“I was in class 6. My doctor was talking to my mom and my uncle. I was sitting outside his clinic. I heard him tell them, ‘Your daughter is a homosexual.’ They thought homosexuality is an illness. They asked the doctor for a cure. The doctor said that the one cure is shock treatment. My mom asked the doctor, ‘Will shock treatment fix my daughter?’”Sanjana, Computer Science Professor
Many parents resort to conversion therapy to 'cure' homosexuality. Fed up with Sanjana, her mother forcibly married her at the age of 14.
When Zehra* got her first job at a call centre, she never thought she would fall in love with a girl, especially one who is Hindu. For Rashmi*, it was love at first sight. She was the one who proposed. The two would eat their lunch together, go for movies and take rides on Rashmi's scooty.
When Zehra's family begun putting pressure on her to get married they both realised that it was time to run away. What they didn't know was that a Hindu-Muslim lesbian couple eloping makes for a great headline... which would later lead to communal tension in their village.
“We had taken a selfie together. The same photo was published in the newspaper. Even if someone didn’t know, they found out through the paper. Eight days later, the newspapers published another article which described me as someone who wears pants and shirts, rides an Activa. We were close friends. The news of us eloping created tension in our village.”Rashmi, Computer Operator
Zehra’s father had filed a missing persons report after the two eloped. When the two went to the police station, they didn’t like the behaviour meted out to them. Both Zehra and Rashmi accused the local police of misconduct and torture.
“PSI said he would find us two boys. They will set up a mandap at the police station and have us marry them. At the end, he said, Instead of troubling your parents and us, I might as well give you poison,’ He said we should kill ourselves,” Zehra said.
Rajni* and Uma*, both 24 years old and belonging to scheduled castes, have been together since they were in class 9. Their 'friendship' found no acceptance in their village and was met with taunts and threats.
Fearing the consequences, on December 20 last year, they got a document from the Rajasthan High Court to state that they can live together as a couple. But the document hasn’t stopped the harassment from their families and villagers. Men continue to proposition them for 'friendship' and 'setting'.
“We live like husband and wife. For the last 15 years, after I told her, she hasn’t taken any money from her parents. She only depends on them for her meals. Whether it’s clothes or anything she needs I make sure I provide for her.”Rajni, Daily-wage Labourer
Rajni and Uma live under constant threat from their families. They are not allowed to meet, call each other or step out of their homes. They are planning to elope when the opportunity arises.
Three months after Anu and Laxmi killed themselves, the highest court in India read down Section 377 that curbed their right to live and love as a same-sex couple. Anu and Laxmi weren't there to celebrate. They weren't there to kiss, love and hug like other joyful, tearful couples.
But perhaps those joyful, tearful couples will love enough and live with the freedom that might have been Anu and Laxmi's had they still been alive.
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