‘I am just a friend, ac­cord­ing to the law ’

India Today - - STATES -

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.

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