New Delhi: “Pyaar wahi jo sabko samajh aaye, aisa zaroori toh nahi, Sach vahi jisse bheed chillaye, aisa zaroori toh nahi; Do ladke agar ek doosre se pyar kare toh isme itna ajeeb kya hai, Dil ko apna humshakal sirf opposite sex pe dikhe, aisa zaroori toh nahi?”
(Who says that only what everyone conforms to can be defined as love
Who says that truth is what everyone in the crowd shouts out
Why can’t two men be in love, who says that it is attraction only when the opposites meet?)
The words recited by 34-year-old Yogi, encapsulates his journey with his partner Kabeer. The two met in 2015 and their love story blossomed against all odds. Before they met each other both Yogi and Kabeer had to cope with the struggle within, accepting their own identity and then dealing with the outcome of the revelation to the world at large.
The extent of the identity crisis can be gauged from the fact that 34-year-old Kabeer led the early part of his life as heteronormative.
I had a very tough time growing up because I was so strict on myself that I never even let myself even think about what I was feeling. I conditioned myself to be that way, so much so that I wouldn’t even allow myself to think about it.
Kabeer was born in a Punjabi family in Delhi. Youngest of the three siblings, he lost his father when he was 14, and ever since then, he automatically came into the position of becoming the ‘man of the house.’
That probably is one of the reasons I was so tough on my own self and never allowed myself to even think about how I was truly feeling.
But at 27, he decided to come out to his family.
Naturally the first emotion I was going through was guilt. As the only son, I’m expected to carry the lineage of my family ahead and the guilt that my mom losing her husband and raising three kids by herself was tough on her. And now me being gay, I thought it would only add to her trauma.
But then, it was a balance that Kabeer had to strike whether to be true to himself or live a lie to make other people happy. He chose the first, and he was glad he made that choice. Kabeer said that it may seem selfish to a lot of people, but he took a long-term view. If he was forced to marry a woman, it would have ruined both their lives.
Yogi, on the other hand, belongs to a traditional Marwari family. Right from his formative years, he was conditioned to take over the family business and it was pre-decided that marriage would be to a woman chosen by the parents. He was always told, ‘what a boy/man is supposed to do’.
I realised about my sexual orientation in the second year of college, when I was involved with a boy.
It was then that he decided to open up to his family. Initially, his family was apprehensive, but they eventually accepted their son’s happiness over everything else. Yogi later moved to Mumbai, where he finally met Kabeer at his workplace and the duo started dating. Yogi had done his post-graduation in Journalism, whereas Kabeer had done his MBA from Indore. Both worked in different branches of an FM radio station, and soon met through a common colleague. Both Yogi and Kabeer have had successful careers as radio jockeys, and moved on to working in multinational corporations.
They knew they were meant to be together after dating for a few months. Eight years on, the duo has now settled together in Delhi.
Up until the time we didn’t meet each other, we were in survival mode and now, as a couple we are living in a thriving mode.
Yogi wanted his family and the world to know about Kabeer. He eventually introduced his partner to his mother. Yogi’s family was quite conservative, but over a period of time they warmed up to Kabeer.
They have accepted and warmed up to me so much that it’s almost unbelievable. If ever Yogi goes to his house by himself, he gets asked where am I, said Kabeer.
The couple says that their relationship is as ordinary as any other relationship. But they haven’t been treated like a couple for most of their lives.
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As gay, even today the duo has to relent to societal pressures and resort to measures to conceal their relationship and identity. Kabeer said,
I can’t even highlight that I am gay in many of the social gatherings fearing how it would end up. I remember, in February, visiting a restaurant with Yogi, where they were celebrating Valentine’s Day. The boards read ‘Only for couples’, and we were apprehensive whether we will be allowed if we tell them that we are one, given the previous experiences. To constantly be under the fear of someone knowing that we are gay, is suffocating. Despite doing well professionally, overall, I live in the surroundings where we constantly have to choose between – explicitly talk about ourselves or hide it.
The discrimination they have faced has been quite subtle, but enough to ensure they keep a check on their reactions and behaviour in public. One time, while checking into a hotel, the front desk person apologised that the duo was given a queen size bed instead of a twin bed room. When she realised that we preferred the former, she was baffled and had a weird reaction to their response.
Kabeer described another incident,
I remember one time when we were in different cities, and Yogi was feeling low and I wanted to surprise him by sending something and cheer him up. I asked the flower delivery person to write a romantic note stating ‘Dear Yogi’ in the beginning, and in the end wrote ‘With Love, Kabeer’, he was audibly uncomfortable writing that message down. But I’m glad he went through with the delivery regardless.
The couple has not faced any discrimination at the organisational level, as the institutions they worked for believed in the concept of inclusivity. The couple was able to nominate each other for the medical insurance offered by the organisation, unlike multiple other couples and homosexual individuals in India.
‘Shuddh Desi Gay’
The duo are the hosts of India’s leading LGBTQI+ podcast ‘Shuddh Desi Gay,’ a Spotify original. In Jan 2023, they were seen on outdoor hoardings across India as brand ambassadors of the country’s first same sex partner insurance policy. Their podcast was also a winner at Hubhopper Podcast Awards 2022 as the Best Self-Love and Motivation Podcast. They were recently nominated at the LGBTQ+ Voice of the year category at the Cosmopolitan Bloggers awards 2023.
LGBTQIA+ Life Without Benefits
Both Yogi and Kabeer, are working in their respective multinational corporations (MNCs), but unlike other heterosexual couples, they aren’t able to avail the basic rights that most heterosexual people take for granted. Be it having a joint account in a bank, certain tax benefits, inheritance and pensions in case of the spouse’s death – these all are inaccessible to the LGBTQIA+ community.
There are several legal avenues that one can use in India to get tax benefits as a couple after marriage: tax deductions on medical insurance, home loans that can be claimed under Section 80C. Various sections of the Income Tax Act, such as Section 80C, 80CC and 80CCE offer tax deductions on the contributions towards life insurance coverage. Besides, the couple can also avail deduction for their children’s education fees.
A working heterosexual partner can pay insurance premium, PPF or NSS on behalf of the spouse and children and get a deduction, but this doesn’t apply to homosexual unions. How is this being equal citizens? Kabeer said.
Besides, a same-sex couple cannot claim pension after the partner’s death, as the pension payment can only be disbursed after someone is legally married and currently the community is fighting for same sex marriage rights in court it. Besides, the couple cannot have a joint account, as it can only be availed with a spouse. In case there is no will, a homosexual partner has no legal rights of inheritance, due to lack of legal recognition of their marriage.
The lack of legal rights is a serious problem. So many forces are already trying to pull a homosexual couple apart. If I can’t even share my income and assets with my partner, what does he do in a moment of crisis? Yogi voices his concern.
Apart from the above legal problems, here is why LGBTQIA+ community has been advocating for rights like same sex marriage in India:
- Partners of the LGBTQIA+ community are not eligible for family floater insurance if they submit proof of family status, since same sex marriage is not recognised in India.
- The LGBTQIA+ couple cannot avail family health coverage or insurance due to unrecognition of same sex marriage. Yogi said,
If Kabeer gets hospitalised, his tenth cousin has more rights than me despite being a partner.
- The LGBTQIA+ community members cannot avail a life insurance policy for the partner and cannot hold a joint account to avail a loan to buy a house or a property, as their marriage is not recognised in India because there is no provision for the same under existing laws like the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
- The adoption rights for the homosexual couple are curbed. In India, adoption is regulated by the HAMA (Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956) and the JJ Act (Juvenile Justice Act). Under HAMA, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and other religions under Hindu Laws can adopt a child, while the JJ act gives the right to adoption irrespective of the religion. HAMA in sections 7 and 8 refer to parents as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, which automatically fails to recognise same-sex couples as parents. Yogi said,
I can’t think of having a child, let alone raising one. And if I get the opportunity to raise a child as a single parent, there are no laws that talk about protecting my child and myself from discrimination.
Ashok Row Kavi, India’s first gay rights activist, said that until September 2018 (until Article 377 was finally scrapped), the community members were considered as felons and were not considered as equal citizens in the eyes of the law.
The scrapping of the article gave us the right to live and cohabit together but there were no provisions for marriage. We became equal citizens without getting equal rights. Right to marriage is primary, as it leads to access to another subset of laws. Despite the removal of the section, the community still craves access to basic rights.
Interventions Required To Make An Inclusive Society
The primary step is to iron out the stigma associated with homosexuals or the community as a whole.
Another important factor is to foster a gender-inclusive school environment, wherein the students learn about gender and sexuality. Mr. Kavi said,
Creating an inclusive culture prevents children and youth from experiencing distress, discrimination, bullying and ultimately negative health outcomes.
Usage of inclusive language can be an add-on to the education, he added. He also suggested the educational institutions to have a department that conducts sessions on of sex, sexuality and gender. A detailed course should be run every six months for lawyers, magistrates, and faculty members of the school to sensitise them about the community.
Mr. Ravi further raised an important point. He said that in the healthcare system, sensitisation programmes must be conducted for the medical and paramedical staff about the diversity of the community and their health problems. Anyone found queerphobic and conducting a discriminatory practice such as misgendering or denying access to medical care, must be penalised.
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Couple Like Yogi And Kabeer Live On In Hope
In 2018, the Supreme Court gave a landmark verdict of decriminalising homosexuality by striking down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Despite this, the members of the community worry about societal rejection and discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals due to lack of the legal recognition of marriage. They are waiting for the conclusion on the ongoing debate on the same sex marriage in the country, as the Supreme Court judgement on the same is awaited in 2023. Currently, the centre’s fundamental argument is that same-sex marriage is not recognised in Indian traditions, ethos, culture, or societal conceptions of the institution of marriage. However, the community has countered it by stating that government’s refusal to acknowledge same-sex marriage is a violation of the Constitutional right to equality and the privileges that married heterosexual couples enjoy.
Yogi and Kabeer called same sex marriage a gateway to all the other basic rights, like availing home loans, nominating partners for life and medical insurance and so forth. The couple said that it was the need of the hour.
If mixed-race couples were allowed civil partnerships instead of marriage, with the same legal consequences, it would be immediately viewed as discrimination. The ban on same-sex couples marrying is equally unacceptable. The option to marry should be available to couples regardless of their genders, the couple said.
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