KOCHI: Adhila Nazrin, 23, and Fathima Noora, 22, have been answering nonstop calls, like a stuck record: “No, we are not married yet....”
The reason: the duo shared some weddingesque photos on Instagram on Tuesday. Appearing in beautiful lehengas and wedding finery, they posed by a beachside venue in Vypeen.
Lost in each other’s gaze, the couple held a ‘rainbow’ cake, too.
“Everyone has been calling with congratulatory messages,” laughs Adhila, who hails from Aluva. “People have been sharing stories and messages on social media. We are amazed to see the acceptance. Sadly, we are not married; it was just a photo shoot.”
With the pics stirring massive interest, Adhila and Noora, of Kozhikode, are thinking of posting an ‘explainer’ Insta story. “It is tiring to individually explain to everyone,” quips Adhila.
Adhila and Noora hit headlines in June when they came out as lesbians. Adhila filed a petition in court, alleging that Noora’s parents had forcibly taken her away and kept her captive. In a landmark judgment, the Kerala High Court allowed the couple to live together.
Now the two live in Chennai and work together in the same office. “Thanks to our families, we were living in trauma, in fear,” says Noora. “Working and living together help us heal to some extent.”
Marriage? “We are still young. So we are not in a hurry,” says Noora. “We want to be settled first, preferably abroad. We will think about marriage after five years.”
‘Still scared of our families’
The couple says they “plan to migrate to another country, where LGBTQIA+ people have equal rights”. “In India, even now, same-sex couples cannot get married,” they add.
Noora points out that many people in society don’t understand the concepts of sexuality and gender. Adhila adds: “Sex education needs to improve, at least the future generation needs to understand these concepts. That would help normalise relationships like ours.”
There isn’t much that can be done about the older generation, she says. “After the case, once my aunt messaged me, initially, asking how we were, and how happy she was seeing us living happily,” says Adhila.
“However, soon she asked why I had not informed the family about experiencing “starting symptoms”. Such people just don’t get it. That’s why we are still scared of our families. Chennai is not that far from Kerala, right?”
The couple has found acceptance in Chennai. “Colleagues have been warm. Despite some murmurs over backlash from society, the office, people at our apartment complex and friends have accepted us.”
‘Secret marriage at Guruvayur’
While Adhila and Noora are waiting to tie the knot, Nikesh Usha Pushkaran and Sonu M S, both from Kochi, got married four years ago. “Our wedding was on July 5, 2018. This was months before the Supreme Court repealed Article 377 and legalised same-sex relations,” recalls Nikesh.
The 39-year-old businessman and 35-year-old Sonu, an IT professional, are now engaged in a court battle to legalise same-sex marriage.
“Our wedding was in secret,” says Nikesh. “We got married at the Guruvayur temple. Our family was with us. However, we didn’t reveal it publicly as our relationship was still considered illegal. We came out publicly in September when Article 377 was repealed.”
In 2020, the couple approached the Kerala High Court to legalise their marriage. “We celebrated our fourth anniversary this July. January 2023, will be the third anniversary of the case, which is still dragging on,” adds Nikesh.
In the Delhi High Court, too, a case similar case has been going on, for same-sex marriage rights.
The Central government, however, has stated in the court that marriage in India depends on “age-old customs, rituals, practices, cultural ethos and societal values”, and living together as partners and having a sexual relationship by same-sex individuals was “not comparable” with the “Indian family unit concept” of a husband, wife and children.
In the Kerala High Court case, the state government is yet to file its response. “We wrote to the chief minister, but haven’t got any reply yet,” says Nikesh.
“It is unfortunate. However, I feel that the courts understand our plight. Several high court and Supreme Court judges have batted for queer rights. So, we are hopeful of getting a favourable verdict, even if it comes late.”
Why marriage matters
Nikesh and Sonu are concerned that they are “getting older”. Currently, same-sex couples cannot adopt babies or go for other options such as surrogacy, which is legally prohibited. “We wanted to first win this case, and later approach the court for our other basic rights. But I don’t know when it will be possible,” says Nikesh.
“In case of adoption, it will be difficult to take care of children after the age of 50. That’s the cut-off age we have set. But if we get a favourable verdict, at least the coming generation might be able to enjoy their basic rights.”
In India, currently, a single individual can adopt children, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender. “The surrogacy rules were changed recently. Yes, there was exploitation. But the government ignored the minority LGBTQIA+ community while prohibiting it,” Nikesh says.
The couple is hopeful that if more people come out, there will be “a huge shift” in society. “Before the historical judgment repealing Article 377, the SC judge said that he had never seen any same-sex couple,” says Nikesh. “The judge wondered aloud, ‘Where are such people that you keep talking about?’”
Then, two SC advocates — Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju — who were in a relationship came out. “That turned the case,” recalls Nikesh.
“Now, if same-sex marriage is legalised, it will legitimise same-sex relationships, and all the couples now in hiding can proudly come out,” Nikesh.
“Marriage is still important in our society for various reasons, starting from inheritance of property to medical insurance.”
The duo says they know several couples like them, who have migrated to countries like Canada and the Netherlands. “They go there, get married and settle there,” adds Nikesh.
“These counties have legalised same-sex marriages, and their society accepts queer relationships.”
Sulfath A of Vanaja Collective, which helped Noora and Adhila in their case, believes marriage right is important for the “overall security” of queer people.
“People might ask why go back to such traditional concepts when you are breaking the norm,” she says.
“Well, in India, ‘proof of marriage’ is vital when it comes to rights such as inheritance, adoption, or even basic financial planning, like taking a family health insurance.”
SC’s ‘precedent-setting’ observation
Some days ago, in a case related to a hospital denying maternity leave to a nurse, the Supreme Court observed that “familial relationships may take the form of domestic, unmarried partnerships or queer relationships”.
“This observation is precedent-setting,” says High Court lawyer Sandhya Raju George. “The lower courts have to consider it. However, it doesn’t give the right to marry or adopt children to same-sex couples. The judgment will help heterosexual couples in live-in relationships in future, especially in cases related to child-rearing rights.”
According to co-founder of the LGBTQ community organisation Sahayatrika, Deepa Vasudevan, though the court did not have to consider live-in or queer relationships, it did. “That is gladdening.”
“It may even help future cases and help the way society views us. However, unless the government brings a law legitimising same-sex marriages and the basic rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, there won’t be a direct impact on the lives of the community.”
Deepa says that the positive judgments and observations are the result of the community’s long-drawn fight for rights. “There are years of struggle behind the scrapping of Section 377,” she says.
Muhammed Unais, a queer activist in Kerala, says the governments Central and state are indifferent to the plight of the community.
“The case in the Delhi High Court is dragging because the Centre has not taken a favourable stand. Also, new laws can only be crafted in Parliament, right?”
Recently, the Cuban government approved same-sex marriage and related rights in a referendum. “However, the Left government in Kerala has not stated its stand,” notes Unais.
The queer umbrella
The term LGBTQIA+ represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexual, asexual, and other sexualities. Most people have heard about gay (male-identifying individuals attracted to the same gender), lesbian (women-identifying individuals attracted to the same gender), and transgender (a person whose sense of personal identity and gender do not correspond with their birth sex) classifications. Queer is often used as an umbrella term for people who are not heterosexual or cisgender. Intersex people are born with a combination of male and female biological traits. And asexual people don’t have a sexual attraction to others or have only low interest in sexual activity.