Southern Indian Lesbian Couple Cremated Together

by Gopalan on  May 19, 2008 at 12:57 PM Lifestyle News
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 Southern Indian Lesbian Couple Cremated Together
In life they found it difficult to be together, and they burnt themselves to death, hugging each other.

The relatives who had tried to hard to separate the southern Indian lesbian couple when they lived chose to cremate them together.

And they wailed profusely, beating their chests, as the funeral procession wended its way to the electric crematorium, the two bodies side by side, reports the Times of India.

A senior police officer said no action was contemplated against the relatives of Christy Jayanthi Malar (38) and Rukmani (40).

"We can't say the relatives pushed the women into suicide. They might have verbally abused them, but that was only to bring them back to normal life," he argued.

  Meantime other lesbian couples in the conservative city of Chennai began to open up to the media, even if on condition of anonymity.

   "The suicide devastated me personally," says a 40-year-old, "Though I am also a lesbian, I never had to fight for basic rights. I know many women are not as fortunate as I am."

Deepa, who owns her home, has not had to face the problems of renting a home. "My employers are also very understanding of my sexual preferences," she says.

The deaths of Malar and Rukmani has sparked anguish and outrage among activists across the country.

The Shakti Center, a collective that focuses on advocacy, counselling and community-building for homosexuals in Chennai, called a meeting of its members on Sunday.

"We received calls from other cities, from those who had heard about the incident," says Aniruddhan Vasudevan, a member of the centre. "This is a warning bell for all of us. Something needs to be done immediately if people are not to be driven to suicide because of their sexual preferences."

 Unlike other metros, Chennai lacks a support group for lesbians and bisexual women. Kolkata has Sappho, a group that provides emotional support to lesbians, and Bangalore has Sangama, a resource centre on sexuality.

"In the 1990s, there was a group that functioned out of Tambaram but it had to be disbanded after members faced harassment," says L Ramakrishnan, Country Director of Saathi. He is a moderator of Movenpick, an internet group with a mailing list that discusses questions and issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. "But it is mainly men who are part of the group," he says.

"In a male-dominated society like ours, women are not allowed to explore their sexuality or even express it," says Sunil Menon, founder of Sahodaran, an organisation that works for the prevention of HIV/ AIDS among men having sex with men.

 "Unless you have access to the internet, it is very hard to make contacts even within a support group in this city. There is very little guidance and help for homosexuals."

Families tend to look the other way even if they find anything unusual in their children's sexual orientation, hoping it is just a passing phase. "The society does not consider you complete unless you are married and have children. You have to stand your ground if you want something different, which is more difficult for women," he says.

 Deepa agrees, "It is difficult to deal with your family. It is not easy, knowing you have a hard life ahead of you. But if you keep walking the same mile every day, after a point you will see how far you have walked."

Human rights activists across the country are also looking to see what a May 19 Delhi High Court will bring.

That is the day when the petition to amend Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code comes up for final hearing in the Delhi High Court.

The Naz Foundation India, a New Delhi-based organization, spearheading the movement to have the section amended, filed the petition in 2001.

"Gays, lesbians and transgenders are harassed constantly by the police due to the existence of this archaic and unreasonable law," says Naz Foundation's executive director Anjali Gopalan. "If consensual sexual activity between two adults is viewed as unnatural under law, then it is a complete violation of a person's rights," she says.

A relic of the British Raj, Section 377 states that: "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal, shall be punishable with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years and shall also be liable to fine."

"We have asked for a reading down of the law. Right now, since there is no law against child sexual abuse, such cases are also prosecuted under Section 377," says Anjali. "We have asked to remove consenting adults from the purview of this law."

The Shakti Center in Chennai is part of the coalition 'Voices Against 377', which is also one of the parties to the petition. "No matter what the outcome of the hearing on the Section is, it will be of utmost importance to all of us," says Aniruddhan Vasudevan of the centre.

Source: Medindia

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