In Kerala, where weddings mean serious business, for 27-year-old Sruthi Krishna it was just another day “with some paper work.” Ramnath from Alappuzha and Sruthi from Wayanad got married in a quiet and simple manner, at a marriage registration office. At first glance, nothing might seem unusual about the wedding, except that everything was.
Large hoardings of jewellery advertisements and silk sarees frequent the streets of Kerala. Gold jewellery advertisements show fathers and mothers getting teary-eyed or extremely happy while buying gold to marry off their daughters. Yes, gold is not merely worn, it’s portrayed as an emotion. Unlike anywhere else in India, this is a thriving industry in the state and jointly, gold jewellers and silk saree arcades, commercialise weddings. Gold also happens to be the primary teller of people’s “status in the society”. The more, the better.
Sruthi, however, did not have even a grain of gold on her, when she got married. For her wedding in May, she wore a neck piece made of cereals and grains, and looked no less beautiful than the gold-clad women they show in those glossy advertisements. She even made a conscious decision to avoid wearing a thaali (traditional thread tied by the groom around the bride’s neck) as well, much to the chagrin of their relatives.
One, because she and Ramnath do not agree with fellow Malayalis’ obsession with gold and weddings. Second, they refused to conform to patriarchy. People have been going on with their fight against patriarchy since forever to no avail, some might mock. Ramnath and Sruthi, for one, did not just not wear gold, they also had only women as legal witnesses for their marriage and their main witness was Sheethal Shyam, a popular LGBTQ activist and transgender in Kerala.
In this inspiring couple’s refusal to accept the “terms and conditions” of a society riding still high on patriarchy, their decision was more criticised than lauded. More than their parents, their relatives disagreed and debated their sanity. “What will society say?”, “What about our status in the society”, “It’s a huge mistake”, were the common cries in both the households. There were umpteen meetings, hushed discussions, heated arguments. “No one could bear that they would not be getting a significant role to play in this wedding.” Sruthi told indianexpress.com.
And all this was before the couple even mentioned that Sheethal would be their legal witness.
And when they did, though all hell did not break loose, the “normal” reactions of disappointment and disagreement raised their heads every now and then.
The idea to invite a transgender to become the main witness was thought about with just a month to go for the wedding. “We wanted people like our amma (mother), chechi (sister)- who generally do not wield so much of power in a patriarchal household, to be witnesses on paper, and for a change, that the men in the house to be just witnesses,” she said. Likewise, inviting Sheethal to be a part of their humble wedding, was their contribution towards emphasising that all humans are equal, irrespective of what their gender is.
Sheethal Shyam, who has worked for 15 years with the LGBTQ community in Kerala, was not apprehensive when she got Sruthi’s call. “Unlike many who discriminate against our community, by faking sympathy and organising charity events, Ramnath and Sruthi saw me as just another human equal to them. They invited me out of their wish that we be accepted into the mainstream, just like we want for ourselves,” Sheethal said. Her friends from the community remarked how lucky she and her partner were for having got such a beautiful opportunity. Sheethal is the state-level secretary of Sexual Minorities Forum Kerala (SMFK). She has previously headed policy making and survey for transgenders in Kerala.
Malayalis might remember Dulqar Salman’s passing remark on patriarchy in the movie – Bangalore Days. “Is it transfer of property?” He had remarked on the “tradition” of the girl changing her maiden name to that of her husband’s after marriage. Guess what, our couple here agrees with Salman’s character. “I haven’t changed my name, nor will I in the future,” Sruthi said. They believe each person has his own identity – one which he carves for himself, and which by no means is determined by the name that is attached to his first name, she said.
Sruthi Krishna and Ramnath met each other about eight years ago in a Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad camp and have been friends since then. They are pursuing their Ph.D in Feminist Discourse in Public Sphere and Transgender Issues respectively, from Gujarat Central University. “Our similar thought processes, the inner struggle we went through, our determination to swim against the flow, is what probably brought us close to each other,” Sruthi said.
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