Updated: February 14, 2021 7:37:30 am
In 2006, when homosexuality was still a crime in India, Kavita Arora, a psychiatrist, and Ankita Khanna, a psychologist, met while working at a mental health centre for children and adolescents in Delhi. Arora, 47, came from a conservative family and had studied about homosexuality only as a concept in class at Delhi’s Lady Hardinge Medical College. When her parents began to look for a match for her, Arora met many men for nearly a decade but “it never felt right”. “As a young person before the internet era, I had never thought of homosexuality as a possibility for myself. I could not allow myself to think that what I was experiencing inside was even real,” she says.
It was only when she was in her thirties that Arora realised that she was attracted to women and it “freed”her up“completely”. Khanna, 36, on the other hand, knew from an early age that she was attracted to both men and women. She had grown up in Mussoorie and Dehradun where her educator parents had instilled in her an acute sense of self-awareness. In 2007, Khanna began to work as a school counsellor before joining Children First, a mental healthcare centre, founded by Arora and two others.
“In those days, I was never very fond of Kavita. It was rare for me to actively dislike someone, so it took me by surprise. In retrospect, to take a Freudian interpretation, it was the reverse of whatI was probably feeling, which was attraction,” says Khanna. In January 2012, she told Arora that one of her NewYear resolutions was for them to have a better working relationship. The two began to spend time together— and quickly fell in love.
They have been together for over eight years since, caring for their families as a couple and sharing household expenses. In spite of being accepted by family and friends, simple things that heterosexual couples take for granted, such as opening a joint bank account or getting proof of residence, are challenging.
“During COVID-19, we wanted to nominate each other on our medical and life-insurance policies, but it proved to be impossible. The legal regime that protects married couples is simply not available to us,” saysArora.
More than two years after homosexuality was decriminalised in India, the mainstream imagination still cannot fathom that Arora and Khanna are a couple. Neighbours often take them to be sisters or friends; the teller at the local bank calls them mother and daughter. Would it be easier if they were wives? In October last year, they filed a petition with the Delhi High Court to get married. “Marriage offers both legal protection and social recognition of commitment, support and security a couple offer each other, which are even more important in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it reads.
The move could have wide-reaching ramifications for India’s LGBTQ+ community. “A homosexual person cannot be excluded from the possibility of being in love and living as a married couple. The petition is an effort to start conversations about the homosexual identity because we do not have adequate language,” says Arora.
Her mother, who passed away in 2015, for instance, never did understand it. “Though I explained to her several times, my mother thought we were friends. There were times she would say, ‘You are not getting married. Let us, at least look for a good boy for Ankita’. There was no vocabulary to explain our relationship,” says Arora.
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