It wasn’t a Bollywood wedding. There was no paparazzi. But Kolkata guests were still told not to post any photographs on social media until all the ceremonies were over in the city’s first public gay marriage.
The reason? The couple, Abhishek and Chaitanya, didn’t want any security threat.
“But once our pheras (the seven rounds around the fire) were done, social media exploded, Abhishek beamed. Photographs of the couple dressed in bejewelled cream-coloured sherwani and dhoti-kurta under an elegant white floral arrangement got hundreds of instant fawning likes and shares on Facebook. Photos of the couple daubing haldi on each other’s faces got 2,000 likes by Tuesday evening. “We hope this gives courage to others to come out and acknowledge their love for their partners,” Abhishek said.
It was at the monument of love, the Taj Mahal, that Chaitanya found the perfect spot to go down on one knee in March 2020 and put a ring on Abhishek. But it was the city of joy that broke all barriers.
“Surprisingly, finding a venue in Kolkata was hassle free,” said newly married Chaitanya, his hands covered in henna. It took six months to prepare for the perfect wedding.
The biggest challenge, though, was to find a priest to conduct the wedding.
“Plenty of pandits turned us down. We were worried that we may not find anyone. My last hope was our family pandit and it was a make-or-break approach for me,” Abhishek said. “The moment I told him about being the priest for our marriage, he agreed at once despite fear of boycott. He said why won’t he supervise the ceremonies,” he narrated.
“He even said, ‘Laxmi aur Narayan ki jodi toh dekha hain. Yeh Narayan-Narayan ka jodi hai’,” recalled Chaitanya. (I have seen goddess Laxmi and lord Narayan come together through our holy scripture, but this is two Narayans coming together). “He told us how in villages boys and girls aren’t able to express their love for the same-sex partner but maybe this will make a difference,” Abhishek said.
Also read: India’s Constitution is ready for gay marriage. Are India’s society and courts?
‘We are fortunate’
While Section 377 was scrapped in September 2018, in a historic judgment by a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court that decriminalised gay sex, same-sex marriage in India remains illegal. So what do Abhishek and Chaitanya plan to do after the ceremonial union?
“Both of us work here, so we are not going to run away to another country to legalise our marriage. Maybe if we get a work opportunity in a gay-friendly country, we will consider it then. But we are optimistic that one day, India will recognise same-sex marriage,” said a hopeful Chaitanya. “My colleagues know about Abhishek and good wishes have poured in from them for my special day. I will rejoin work next month.”
Abhishek is overwhelmed by the support he has received from elders in his family. “It’s a generation you don’t expect to come to terms with what we did so easily. I lost both my parents earlier, but my sister has been a big pillar of support,” he said.
The couple knows that they are fortunate, and lucky, to be surrounded by friends and family who are celebrating their relationship, but the journey wasn’t easy for Chaitanya.
“I was aware about my orientation back in school itself. But I first spoke to my youngest sister about it. She would call me and ask me if I was seeing any guy and she said she was ready to take my side should I speak to my parents about it. In 2006, I came out to them. Initially, they were in denial. But slowly my parents accepted me for who I am. On the wedding day, my mother asked me why I waited so long to tie the knot. She is now a proud mother-in-law to three sons-in-law,” Chaitanya said.
Also read: Marriage in India is still a ‘heterosexual privilege’ 3 years after Section 377 ruling
Love is love
Most couples will admit that planning a grand wedding is not always smooth sailing. Chaitanya’s sister, Neha Mishra, who lives in Indonesia, was apprehensive at first when he revealed the wedding plans to her. “I didn’t know how society would see it; I was a bit sceptical and concerned that no one would respect my brother, to be honest,” Neha said.
But when she came to Kolkata and met Abhishek’s family and friends, her fears were put to rest. She did not see anyone roll their eyes or mock the couple during the mehendi ceremony. “I was delighted. I hope that the courage that my brother has shown will help many others across the country. I know we have a long way to go, but change has begun for a better, inclusive society. Abhishek and Chaitanya deserve all the happiness,” Neha said.
Designer and friend Navonil, who attended the wedding, told ThePrint that it’s important for gay marriages to be celebrated publicly. “A public celebration changes the narrative, changes the perception that we are invisible. It’s about time we become visible and through these celebrations we demand what is right and what is just — what is given to us as the right to equality as promised by the Constitution.”