The Kodava community in Karnataka’s Kodagu (Coorg) district has called for ostracisation of a man who married his gay partner in the United States because he chose to wear the Kupya-chele, the traditional Kodava attire, during the ceremony on September 26. Sharath Ponnappa Puttichanda, belongs to the Kodava community, while his husband Sundeep Dosanj is a Punjabi American, born and raised in California.
The photos of the wedding, which also had the couple in traditional Punjabi attire, was circulated among Kodavas in the district, prompting the Kodava Samaja, the organisation tasked with cultural conservation and social wellbeing of the small community, to condemn the wedding.
Speaking to Indianexpress.com, K S Devaiah, president of the Kodava Samaja in Madikeri said while there have been several instances of inter-caste marriages, this is the first same-sex marriage in the community. “This wedding, where the couple wore traditional Kodava attire, is an insult to the entire community. Hence, after a meeting the members of the Kodava Samaja, we have recommended ostracisation of Sharath Ponnappa from the community.”
The Kodava Samaja has also written a letter to the president of the Kodava Koota, an organisation representing Kodavas in the United States. “I have recommended expelling Sharath from the Kodava community in the US,” he added.
“We knew there would be dissenters, but we have literally been fighting for acceptance since the day we were born, fighting to survive and be treated the same as our peers. However, we proudly choose to live our truth, celebrate our same-sex marriage and encourage the dissenters to open their minds and engage in positive dialogue to understand that all humans are created equally and deserve respect and love,” says Ponnappa, a California-based doctor, who migrated to the United States 13 year back.
“Inviting the media to cover our wedding ceremonies was to spread awareness to Indian members in the global LGBTQI+ community still struggling to break out of the closet that it does in fact get better,” he said in an email response to Indianexpress.com. “Change is inevitable. Mindsets will evolve (history is proof of this). When it comes down to it, there are two sides that every person on this planet chooses to be on with regard to every single thing: the right side of history or the wrong side of history. We are living our truths. The choice is yours to make if you’re on the right side of history and choose to join us or if you continue to be on the wrong side of history.”
The Kodavas are a small martial community settled primarily in Kodagu district of Karnataka and engaged in agriculture, focusing on growing coffee, black pepper and paddy in the Western Ghats region. The community of around three lakh are ethnically and culturally distinct people known for their martial culture.
Recently, a Kodava Samaja in Balele, Gonikoppa in South Coorg, passed a resolution not to rent their premises for weddings to Kodavas who marry outside the community. The resolution also says bridegrooms who marry a person outside the community cannot wear the Kupya-chele. “Such practices, which dilute the sanctity of Kodava tradition, will not be appreciated,” the Balele Kodava Samaja said.
While section 377 of the IPC was, which criminalised gay sex, was written down by the Supreme Court in 2018, gay marriages are still not legally recognised in India. Recently, a petition was been filed with the Delhi High Court by two same-sex couples to legalise their marriages. The petitioners have called the current provisions of marriage under the Indian law detrimental and a violation of their constitutional rights.
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