Binandan Sarkar, now 27 never thought that one day he would have to leave his beloved Atreyee forever. Rabi Roy, even at 25, always felt that he was a misfit. Rabi had no friends except Karnajora. Both Atreyee and Karnajora are two of the most beloved rivers in Northern Bengal.
They didn't know when they met on social media that their presence in each other's worlds would change the course of their lives in the coming few months.
A postgraduate in Mathematics, Binandan has a sharp mind. After days of planning to break away from the nerve-racking tortures of house imprisonment, he was finally able to work out a plan to escape his house on April 12th, 2018. Gathering whatever belongings he could manage, including his educational certificates and citizenship documents, he somehow managed to reach Rabi's place in Karnajora (the village is named after the river) using public transport. Rabi's mother had promised to support him in case of any crisis. Rabi had lost his father when he was too young.
However, Binandan's ordeal didn't end with the escape. On May 2nd, 2018, a bunch of rowdy goons led by his maternal uncle landed up at Rabi's place. They tried to bulldoze into the house to heckle his mother, physically assault Rabi and take Binandan away with them forcefully. Thankfully with intervention from Prantakatha, an organization based in Kolkata working for the rights of marginalized youth, the district police administration reached on time and arrested the criminals.
But what could be the reason that led to so much violence, abuse, assault, and trauma? Rabi and Binandan were both adults. Why would their family resort to such extreme cruelty? Ironically, the reason is that both of them wanted to be honest and truthful about who they are!
A couple of months before escaping his house, Binandan came out to his mother with the most intimate truth of his life. It was the same with Rabi. The Postgraduate, adult, sovereign, eligible voter of India, Mr Binandan Sarkar has immediately declared abnormal…a shame to his family, an aberration to the family norms by calling himself 'Gay'!
The moment he uttered this word, all that he had known over the years…all of his previous attributes…that of a scholar, a loving son, the pride of the family, an eligible bachelor…vanished instantly! What remained was a shame, disgrace and hatred. "That is all a gay deserves" – was the opinion of his family, including his parents. The nightmare included his family trying to drug him, change him to being a 'normal' boy by beating him up severely and what not! By the time Binandan could escape his house, he knew he had nothing left in the place he grew up in. Probably his childhood friend Atreyee wept silently.
Rabi being effeminate, was always bullied at school, on the roads, by his own friends. It made him a loner. His only solitary sojourn was Karnajora, the river he grew up with. He would spend hours sitting alongside the river bed, sharing his feelings, desires, sorrows and dreams with her. He managed to complete his diploma, but after failing a thousand times to act like a 'man', he gave up on his life. He accepted himself as a failure, an aberration like no one around him, a misfit. He started to believe that he deserved all the bullying that was happening to him. He stopped complaining, stopped yelling, and stopped crying. What remained was his deep dejection of his own self and an extreme fear of facing people, especially the community he lived in.
When Binandan and Rabi found each other, they spoke endlessly and felt extremely close to each other due to the relatability of their experiences. It was not romance that bound them. Rather, they found a friend in each other, a space to talk honestly, authentically, a space to feel human again. It was their own personal movement—a small but powerful act of rebellion against the world that had been extremely unkind to them.
Thus, when Binandan finally came over to Rabi's place, Rabi got an escapade without breaking away from the house…after years of solitary confinement, Rabi could see a possibility of a rainbow. Binandan's family was quick to find out where their son had escaped to. As soon as they found out, a series of abusive-threatening calls and messages from his mother began. Rabi was afraid and anxious, wondering how will he and his mother stay in that locality if Binandan's abusive family landed up at their place and created a scene. Despite his worry, he would be the last person to let go of the only possibility he had found in decades…that made him want to live again!
After the incident on May 2nd, it became more difficult for them to stay back at Karnajora. It was difficult to go to the market, to do regular chores, even step out of the house without drawing attention. Their neighbours started giving excuses that setting such an example in the community will spoil their children too! Rabi and Binandan could never understand how loving someone could spoil society. But it was getting tougher every day. Though the police administration supported them due to the lobby from the NGO and that ensured no further mob violence; it was increasingly difficult for Rabi's mother to shelter them given the hostility around.
So finally, Rabi and Binandan decided to leave for Kolkata on May 9th, 2018; the city where both Atreyee and Karnajora, the rivers of Northern Bengal flowed into Ganga. They knew it was going to be difficult to just land up in a city they didn't know the first thing about. It was additionally challenging because, in case of any trouble, they couldn't seek legal support or reach out to the police due to their relationship. IPC 377 was still legal and it criminalized 'any sexual conduct between consenting adults of the same sex' labelling it unnatural and was punishable with 10 years of imprisonment.
Binandan had some financial reserves from his scholarship and some money was given by Rabi's mother. They somehow managed to rent a garage as a roof over their heads. Cramped up in a tiny space they could barely afford, for the first time in their lives, they felt real freedom. They didn't feel the need to act or pretend anymore; at least inside this nest of theirs and thanks to the belonging, they felt with each other, to an extent, even outside. They reached out to Prantakatha once more seeking support to lead their lives in the new city. Thankfully through one of their scholarships for youth from excluded communities, Binandan was able to start preparing for government jobs.
The funniest part is, that at the end of two years when Binandan cracked a clerical job in a government department; he didn't want a regular job anymore. The journey from Atreyee to Ganga had been long and what followed had shifted a lot inside him. During the course of their time in Kolkata, both Rabi and Binandan had become known faces among the millennials in the LGBT community of Bengal. They were featured in many mainstream media stories following the historical verdict by Supreme Court on September 6th, 2018 decriminalizing same-sex relationships. Binandan realised the many beliefs that were instilled by his family, held no meaning in his life anymore; including the idea of a steady government job which most often came with the dream of a heterosexual family. He could see that breaking free had so many new layers and that he could now truly dream of things that he wanted and not what others wanted of him. He wanted to break away from the idea of "I, me and mine"! He wanted to become that sojourn Atreyee used to be to him and Karnajora to Rabi. He felt a deep desire to break free from a restrictive idea of self, of family, of wellbeing.
Today, Binandan & Rabi are not just another gay couples living in the capital city of Kolkata like many. They are a story of pride, hope, and inspiration to millions who are still trying to break free.
Currently, they are working for the rights of gender-based and sexual minorities with a special focus on young people. After all, it is imperative that they have the agency to make their own decisions and adults around them support their beings inclusively.
Thanks to their steady earnings, the couple was finally able to rent a two-bed apartment. One big wall in their apartment is now filled with sketches of rivers and butterflies with three words imprinted over it – Laugh, Live and Love!