‘I am just a friend, according to the law ’
Ayesha Sood remembers her uncle and aunt kissing, while dancing to Moon River at their anniversary. She was 13 at the time, and wondered if she’d ever look at someone with the same ardour. Today, at 42, when she looks at Reecha Upadhyaya, 40, her partner for 10 years, she sees it. For her, it’s the same kind of love.
For filmmaker Ayesha, coming out to her parents about her sexuality was easy. “I come from a place of privilege.” says Ayesha, a filmmaker who runs the Jamun Collective in New Delhi. But Reecha, who grew up in a conservative, immigrant Indian family in New York, has known discrimination—and suspicion even in her own family. “There is law and there’s culture,” says Reecha, a campaign director with NGO Purpose Global PBC. Ayesha and Reecha got together in Delhi 10 years ago.
Ayesha recalls her mother telling
her how, as a child, she would go off to the boys’ section in departmental stores. “The problem starts when you grow up a butch. You either become buddies with men or a threat to them,” she adds. Reecha is a femme, who dated boys growing up, but came out to her parents at 25, when she was living independently. Her parents suggested she get psychiatric help. Instead, Reecha chose to hang out in New York City’s lesbian bars, with an alternative set of friends. Ironically, though, coming out was easier for Ayesha—even in socially conservative India—than for Reecha in New York. She remains largely estranged from her parents.
Unlike gay men, lesbians have also been at odds with patriarchy as they defied the constructs imposed by straight society. In India, one didn’t find too many lesbians at the forefront of the LGBTQ movement. Here, a subordinate status for women is the default setting and lesbians mostly took their sexuality as a radical political gesture. As India moves into the current wave of “free to be” gender politics, couples like Ayesha and Reecha are redefining lesbianism. “I hope lesbians can get out and have more fun like gay men,” says Ayesha.
The couple have a house with a beautiful view of the Hauz Khas lake. The police have never come knocking. To the world, they are two girlfriends living together. But they’d like to get married, and maybe adopt children. “If I were unwell, who better than her to take a decision for me?” asks Ayesha. “But in the eyes of the law, I am just a friend.”
Last Sunday, three days after the Supreme Court judgment, Ayesha’s parents organised a brunch with cake and champagne. Her father has taken to calling Reecha his daughter-in-law. At the brunch, as Ayesha absentmindedly picks up the guitar, Reecha nudges her to play their go-to song—the Beatles’ Let It Be.