On 6th September, as India celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision on Section 377, 36-year-old Riju (name changed) was fighting a heart-wrenching battle for the right to love, equality and ultimately justice. While India, ridding itself of the vestiges of its colonial past, is ushering in the beginning of a seemingly progressive, modern and more “equal” times, Riju’s story only points towards the fact that India might be progressive on paper, but the society marked by prejudices and discrimination, still has a long way to go before it can secure equal rights for members of the queer community.
Riju, a person from Kollam in Kerala, has been fighting for their right to love for the past one month. Riju first shared their ordeal with Queerala, an organisation which seeks to secure the rights of the sexual and gender minorities on 6th of September, the same day when the apex court decided to decriminalised homosexuality – a judgement that was lauded by the world over.
“I thought of killing myself, but now, I have decided to continue fighting for my love and my partner,” said Riju over a phone conversation with The Logical Indian. Riju is a female assigned at birth and prefers using the pronoun “their” while Maya (name changed) is a lesbian woman. After meeting on a dating app for queer women, Riju has been in a relationship with 25-year-old Maya for the last two years and they tied the knot in July, marking what they thought would be the beginning of their ‘forever after.’ While they were in the process of starting to live together, little did they know in the days to come, the couple would be subjected to humiliation, intimidation and assault, just because they wished to express their love for each other.
Riju and Maya’s battle
Talking to The Logical Indian, Riju said that their parents have always been supportive of Riju’s choices, but problems arose when Riju wished to bring Maya from her house in Trivandrum to Kollam before leaving for the Middle East. Maya began facing harassment in the guise of emotional blackmailing when her family found out about Maya and Riju’s relationship.
Riju on, August 13, went to Maya’s house in rural Trivandrum to shift her from her parents’ house. Riju said, “They caught a train to Kollam together, however, her phone kept ringing.” While the first few phone calls were from Maya’s parents, who urged her to come back home, the final call, from the Police forced the couple to return to Trivandrum. To their surprise, Maya’s family had lodged a formal missing person’s case which required a police enquiry. Upon reaching the police station, Maya tried to the clarify that it was with her consent that she left with Riju, however, they were harassed. Riju said, “They called us feminists, they tried to morally police us and even tried to separate both of us.”
The couple was detained at the police station for the night, only to be produced before the local Magistrate Court the next day. Riju said that during the hearing, Maya expressed her wish to live with her partner and the court charged Maya off hold because it found no reason for warranting further detention. While this gave the duo a new ray of hope, things soon started going in a downward spiral for Riju and Maya.
As the couple was about to leave the court premises, they were surrounded by Maya’s parents and other relatives who forced Maya to come home with them. When they resisted, the trio started hurling abuses at Riju and started to man-handle them. Riju said, “I got beaten up in front of the court premises and no one came to my rescue.” Maya’s parents accused Riju of being a sex trafficker, among other baseless accusations, just because the couple chose to stay together. “They said that I would take their daughter and traffick her,” added Riju.
A helpless and overpowered Riju had no choice but to let Maya go with her parents. Riju then decided to take the legal recourse. “I have faith in our legal justice system and I would continue fighting,” Riju added. A formal police complaint was lodged the next day where Riju was promised that they would be presented at the court for a hearing soon, however, Riju did not receive any further communication.
However, external forces could not separate two people in love. Riju said, “I received a message from Maya who informed that she has been taken to a mental healthcare facility where her parents had asked the facility personnel to disallow anyone from meeting Maya.” Reportedly, Maya had managed to speak to the superintendent who assured her that Riju could visit if a copy of the court order was shown. The Kerala floods delayed the release of the court order and the couple was left with no choice but to communicate over WhatsApp messages and calls.
On September 3, when Riju finally went to meet Maya at the facility, they learnt that Maya had been discharged and taken away by her parents. Soon after, Riju got a communication from Maya.
“Maya contacted me and told me that she was taken to her mother’s native place where she was kept on a virtual house arrest in a rented house,” said Riju.
Maya used to secretly message Riju using her phone and the couple kept communicating until Maya’s parents found out. Following this, Maya talked to Riju using her parents’ phone. September 6 was the last day when Riju had heard from their partner. Speaking over the phone, Riju broke down and said, “I do not know where she is or how is she.” However, an undeterred Riju wishes to take the matter to the higher court and continue the battle over the right to love.
Riju’s story is certainly not the only one in the country. Even as the apex court has decriminalised homosexuality, the real change needs to come from within. Moral obligations and societal norms dictate behavioural patterns in our society and the country still has a long way to go before it can secure equality for all in the truest sense of the term. While the judgement is certainly a move in the right direction, much work needs to be done, both legally and collectively as a society to secure fundamental rights for people of the queer community.
*To protect the privacy of the individuals, identifying details such as names have been changed. Riju is a female assigned at birth and prefers using the pronoun “their” while Maya is a lesbian woman.