“Love is not a weakness, it’s your boldness that will carry you forward,” says a blushing Tista Das. Draped in a bright yellow saree, the newly-wed touches her makeup, adjusting her bangles, as husband Dipan Chakraborty struggles to take his eyes off his wife. Like many love stories, theirs too stemmed from a strong friendship. But their wedding was not a regular affair as it is believed to be Bengal’s first ‘rainbow wedding’.
“Seeing Tista in her bridal look for the first time in 2016 at an event on Transgender Visibility Day, I was mesmerised by her beauty,” recalls Chakraborty. However, he says it was not until he spoke to her directly that he started falling for her. “It was always so easy to share everything with her, so I was scared to express my feelings to her, as I didn’t want to jeopardise our friendship,” he adds.
After mustering the strength and consulting a few mutual friends, he decided to let her know his feelings, with a promise to be with her forever. “We always have aimed to break stereotypes, so, when telling her about my feelings, I didn’t say the cliched ‘I love you’. I just said, I want to be with her always.”
The duo, who both underwent sex re-assignment surgeries, have tied the knot in a traditional Bengali ceremony earlier this month, grabbing headlines all across the world. As people across the globe cheered for their life together, within their community in the state, there has been criticism.
The couple is now enjoying their marital life in the Kolkata suburb of Agarpara, along with their four dogs and eight cats.
“When he initially proposed, I warned him, this is going to add another ambit to our struggle together and that’s exactly what has happened,” Das says. “In our society, many feels if a cisgender man marries a transwoman then he can be her saviour, but since Dipan is a transman, he cannot be my saviour.”
Das has a question for those attacking her: “If a cisgender rejecting a transgender is worth condemning, then isn’t rejecting a man because he is a transman equally disrespectful?”
“Struggle has always been a part of my life, and it will always be. But it’s really disheartening that people of my own community are now criticising us,” laments the 38-year-old transwoman, who has been a prominent face of the community in Kolkata.
Many criticising the couple for their union have raised concern that it might divert attention from transgender rights and the movement. As in India, transgenders still don’t have the right to legally marry, many alleged their wedding basically defeats the cause.
A member of the West Bengal Transgender Board, Ranjita Sinha, while congratulating the newlyweds, said: “It is my own personal opinion. Is marriage always the ultimate goal? The society treats us as outsiders, doesn’t respect us as a human being, then aren’t we giving in to the norms and rules of that society to gain acceptance.”
“Tista has been my friend for long and I wish them the best for their life ahead. But in my opinion, this is a society, and rituals, which always shunned us for who we are. Us confiding and abiding to those patriarchal forms again seems like defeat,” she adds.
“They may have married legally, but that hasn’t happened as a transperson. It has happened as a man and a woman, so is it not a diversion from our movement where we want the same rights for a transcitizen that every other citizen enjoys,” she asks.
Das and Chakraborty have not only exchanged vows in a traditional Bengali ceremony, but also registered their wedding via the Special Marriage Act, signing the documents as man and woman.
Reacting to the criticism, Das argues, “Yes, there isn’t any provision yet to be legally married as transsexual person. But wasn’t our fight as to how a person identifies his or herself? Whether I want to be identified as a woman or a transgender is a choice. I always thought myself as a woman, my voter ID too says I’m a woman, then what’s the harm? Sadly, we fought for the right and freedom, but now, when I’m exercising my freedom of choice, I’m being criticised for it.”
Caught between the debate of mainstream and marginalised, their wedding has started many new debates in the community. “Isn’t it sad that the mainstream, which dubs us as marginalised, we have also started believing in that and now are stopping ourselves to be not part of it,” she says.
“By following the same particharial rituals while tying a knot and adhering to the symbolism of ancient Hindu tradition, I feel we are somehow going backwards,” Sinha adds.
However, the couple argues, there are many things that they haven’t followed in the wedding as it was unacceptable to them, but not everyone looked at the rituals they didn’t follow. “Our wedding didn’t have the ritual of Kanyadaan, I’m not a commodity, so, I didn’t allow my uncle to carry out the ritual of Sampradan. Likewise, my sindoor and sankha, which many have opposed, is something I decided to wear just to give some happiness to my mother,” Das says.
Born as Sushanto Das, Tista underwent a sex reassignment surgery (SRS) in 2004 after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria for her childhood. And in this entire journey, it’s her mother, Shubhra, who has stuck with her through thick and thin. “My mother has been abused and shamed because she decided to support me. Like any mother, she dreamed of a wedding for her child. I couldn’t be a son to my mother, so if for her happiness, if I do little things, it doesn’t affect my movement or my fight,” she underlines.
However, their fight doesn’t end here. Born as Dipannita, hailing from Assam, her husband hasn’t got the love and support she is blessed with. In Lumding, a small hill station in the state, coming to terms with SRS is not easy. While Chakraborty’s parents were still not open about the surgery, the news of marriage certainly left them in shock. While he was supported by his friends and colleagues in Kolkata, on his special day his parents were not included.
This is why Das says she decided to marry Dipan. “He is such a wonderful person and totally deserves a family who loves him unconditionally, so, I wanted to give him that. Also, I always wondered if a man by birth would have ever understood my journey and struggle in becoming a woman. So, when he asked me to be with him, this was the best thing I could think about,” she adds.
Known for her stint in Sohini Dasgupta’s documentary ‘I Couldn”t Be Your Son, Mom’ and short film ‘The Third Gender’, she also provides medico-legal services to transgenders at a centre called SRS Solutions Kolkata. And it was her agency that got the two together in the first place.
While their struggle for the community and their rights hasn’t stopped, they feel this criticism cannot bring them down. In fact, has only made their love stronger. And they hope their story inspires others to exercise their freedom of choice.
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