It looked like any other marriage. The green lawns of Pujari Vatika in Raipur were decked up in red and orange. Well-dressed guests waited for the bride and groom to step on the stage, throne-like chairs waited for them too. Inside, a more spartan hall was sombre, filled with sounds of prayer, and the smell of smoke.
The smoke came from fire as couples sat around them for the ceremony. There were 15 couples, of which every woman was from the transgender community.
Over the past two years, backed by a strong transgender community that has fought for its rights, Chhattisgarh has been at the forefront of several initiatives for their uplift, from fighting for employment in Chhattisgarh Police, or Veena Sendre winning a beauty pageant to be crowned Miss Transqueen 2018. But the thought for the Saturday’s event began in earnest the day Section 377 of the IPC was struck down.
Siddharth, a member of Maati, an organisation that fights for LGBTQ rights in Chhattisgarh, said, “Work has been done on education and livelihood, but this was something that we felt needed to happen. Thus far, for transgender people, the only social acceptance was sexual. But it needed to go beyond that. So just under a year ago, we began thinking of this, and looked for ways to make it happen, especially after the 377 judgment.”
Siddharth said the organisation invited applications for couples who wanted to get married, and got more than a hundred applications. “We could not arrange for all hundred, so some vetting had to be done. We spoke and counselled each couple. The men getting married today are extraordinarily brave, and have faced brickbats from their families for being in love with someone who doesn’t have social acceptability. The 15 couples were decided on based on their compatibility and other factors. Today, what is extremely beautiful to watch is that the families are here too. I cannot believe this day has come,” he said.
The event was financially backed by the producer of Hansa, a film on transgender rights, Suresh Sharma, but organisers said they also received “moral support from all sections of the community, including politicians and the government”.
The couples are from six states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Maharashtra. Vidya Rajput, a transgender rights activist and president of Maati, said, “We received support from all quarters, and this could not have happened without political support.”
The festivities began on Friday evening with a sangeet. At 4 pm on Saturday, the ‘baraat’ swept through the streets of Raipur. In the evening, as the couples got married, prominent faces were seen arriving to bless them. BJP MP and former minister Brijmohan Agrawal, with Raipur Lok Sabha candidate Sunil Soni, were the first to arrive, while JCCJ leader Amit Jogi promised to donate a month’s pension to the couples. The Congress, including Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, made its presence felt too.
At 8.15 pm, with the rituals done, the couples began to take the stage, each introducing themselves to the crowd, all of them happy, some emotional. One couple from Madhya Pradesh spoke of their relationship, saying it was a struggle as they lived together but that they had found acceptance today.
The first couple on the stage was Ghulam Nabi Ansari and Saloni Aansari from Maharashtra. As she introduced herself, there was a stutter in her voice, and then a wide, brimming smile. “I am Saloni, no, I am Saloni Ansari. I cannot tell you how happy I am that this day has come. I feel free from fear.”