'Married' lesbian couple defy their families and vow to fight Indian law

Two young women in Punjab state have eloped for what may be the region's first lesbian wedding. The two, identified only as Raju and Mala, disappeared from their homes in Amritsar two weeks ago.

Two young women in Punjab state have eloped for what may be the region's first lesbian wedding. The two, identified only as Raju and Mala, disappeared from their homes in Amritsar two weeks ago.

They have now returned and are demanding that their families respect their wish to live as a couple. The parents of each are said to be furious.

Raju's mother, Ranjit Kaur, is quoted as saying: "It is humiliating for us and for humanity. We only wish they are joking." Her father, Tarsem Singh has demanded their arrest.

Police say the case has nothing to do with them. Although gay and lesbian marriages are not recognised in Indian law, and the marriage will not be official, there is no law that can stop the women living together, as they are adults.

The two women have reportedly said, however, that they not only want to live together but will fight to have their marriage registered and the law changed on gay marriages.

Neighbours have called for a social boycott of the two women. Raju's mother was quoted by Calcutta's Telegraph newspaper as saying: "We had no idea that the two were up to other things than being just good friends. They were always seen together.

"We used to laugh when they used to say they would get married to each other. Now we know why Raju shunned the proposals that used to come for her. Mala's parents, too, hold similar views."

Indian society is still deeply conservative when it comes to questions of sex and marriage, especially for women. Most Indians still have arranged marriages with spouses chosen by their parents, and the question of a dowry for a young bride is paramount.

Public expression of homosexuality in India is taboo. When a Bollywood film about a lesbian love affair opened recently, crowds of Hindu extremists attacked cinemas. Gay rights groups were also up in arms about the film, but their grievance stemmed from what they believed was its deeply negative portrayal of lesbianism.

Bollywood may be making movies about lesbianism, but any openness on the subject is confined to the relatively open, richer sections of society in Bombay and a handful of other cities.

Amritsar is not that sort of place. It is the holy city of Sikhism and, therefore, is dominated by Sikhs.

But Raju and Mala are reported to have married on Tuesday in what has been described as a Hindu ceremony. The service, however, is not likely to be recognised as such by orthodox Hindus.

Although much of Indian society does not accept gay marriages, it does have some unusual practices relating to marriage.

Although they are illegal, child marriages are still common in some rural areas. Adult men who marry under-age girls are now liable to be given lengthy jail sentences if caught, but the practice continues nonetheless.

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