By Devesh Narayanan:
31-year-old Dr. Priya Vedi took her own life earlier this week, after she realized that her husband of five years was secretly gay. “Dr Kamal Vedi I never wanted anything from you but due to your abnormal sexuality you thought you think I need sex from you. It’s wrong. I just wanted to be with you, accepting you because I loved you very much but you never knew importance of this”, she wrote in her suicide note on Facebook.
In a shocking move that left her friends and family stunned, Dr. Vedi resorted to this drastic step after her husband began to allegedly torture her mentally once she learned the truth about his sexuality. Their five-year old arranged marriage remained unconsummated while the husband allegedly continued his affairs with a number of men, returning home only to vent out his anger and frustration on his wife. There is no doubt that Priya Vedi was the victim of this tragic story. But the fact that she chose suicide over divorce or a lawsuit raises some very important questions.
Our society has a twisted notion about the concept of marriage – the whole ‘saat janam ka bandhan’, where the wife must never leave the husband’s side in spite of unrequited affections. The Adarsh Bharatiya Bahu is ever dutiful and faithful. In a country where the word ‘divorce’ is met with such harsh distaste, the intense stigma that surrounds the life of a divorced woman is scarcely preferred over an unhappy marriage. And while there was the recent case of a Bangalorean woman invoking Section 377 on her cheating husband, our society is generally not forgiving towards a woman who stands up for herself and openly defies her husband. This “stifling, one-sided compromise” is the foundation of marriage in our deeply patriarchal society.
But another obvious question remains unanswered – Why did they even get married in the first place?
Despite the progress we have made as a society, it pains me to see how we still remain shockingly primitive in our mind-sets. Deviations from heteronormativity are still seen as abhorrent, a representation of the “corrupt Western culture”. And for every activist who speaks out against the criminalization of homosexuality, there is an Indian parent who believes that shaadi aur bacche is the universal solution to their child’s homosexual tendencies.
Societal pressures to settle down and get married are unrelenting. So much so that even a highly-educated homosexual man is unable to resist family pressures, and is forced to enter a marriage to keep his people from gossiping.
Perhaps Dr. Kamal Vedi was a victim too. Perhaps he was too scared of the inescapable stigma of coming out of the closet in our narrow-minded society. Perhaps he refused to consider that his failure to be open about his sexuality could ruin someone else’s life. Perhaps he saw his marriage as a convenient façade to hide his true nature, and chose to ignore the fact that the relationship was founded in lies and deceit.
“Shame on that gay bastard.”
“That doctor must be punished.”
There has been no dearth of spiteful comments against Dr. Kamal Vedi in the last few days. But is all this hate justified? Well, yes and no.
Yes, because no matter how difficult the life of a homosexual man in India is, there is simply no justification for causing so much distress to an innocent woman. He should have never agreed to get married in the first place. His selfishness drove his wife to suicide, and a part of me is filled with a righteous anger to see him punished for his wrongdoing.
Yet another part of me can’t help but feel a little empathetic to his plight. Dr. Kamal Vedi lives in a homophobic society that frowns upon all things ‘different‘. There is no telling how his friends and family would have reacted had he come out earlier, but I believe that the story would have panned out very differently had we been in a more accepting society. At the end of the day, however, the final words of Dr. Priya Vedi’s suicide note reflect a very naked plea – “If someone in our society is like him please don’t marry to a girl to save yourself , you people by doing so not playing only with someone emotions also with a girl and her family’s life.”
It is unfortunate that our society is shameless in its persecution of homosexuals, and the denial of basic rights to these people is an indication of how much we need to grow up as a society. Yet, as columnist Sandip Roy puts it, “Gay men do not have it easy in India. But that cannot give them moral cover to ruin the lives of others. No one is asking them to march in Rainbow Pride parades. But learning to say No to marriage would be a good beginning. It is all very well for us to castigate the Supreme Court for its failure to affirm gay rights. But rights mean nothing without responsibility and as the Vedi case reminds us responsibilities begin at home.” This tragic story represents a very real problem in our country, and I believe that some very important lessons can be learnt from here.