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The Story Of This Lesbian Couple Proves That All Love Deserves to Be ‘Celebrated As Equal’

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By Rohini Banerjee for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Editorial Note: Every time around Valentine’s Day we celebrate only one kind of love — the heterosexual kind — and queer love is hardly mentioned. Not all romantic love occurs between straight men and women, and there are so many alternate forms of love that are equally beautiful but law and society denies individuals the right to express it freely. So, this year on Valentine’s Day here’s a series that celebrates all love as equal and explores the experiences of couples and individuals who identify differently. That they are sharing their stories is a strong sign of how the #Windsof Change are here, and how more and more people are refusing to let silence be their only option. Even while anonymous (their choice, no one has the right to ask otherwise), it is heartening to have them share their love with us which is sure to give others reading these stories some hope too.

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Representation only. Source: Flickr.

Bhavya and Nisha (names changed) are a polyamorous, lesbian couple based in Mumbai. Now, many may wonder how the words ‘polyamorous’ and ‘couple’ can fit in the same sentence. A polyamorous person is one who experiences romantic attraction towards multiple people (often at the same time), so how can they be in a relationship? This notion is completely wrong. Polyamorous love is as strong, as committed and as valid as any other kind of romantic love. Just because they can be romantically attracted to multiple people, does not mean that they love any partner less! Following are Bhavya and Nisha’s take on love, sexuality, relationships and each other:

How did you meet, and when and how did you realise that this was a deeper, romantic connection?

Bhavya: We met on Tinder. I was kind of hesitant about using it at first. I really didn’t think I could meet any interesting people on it but then a friend egged me on.

She had expressed how much she liked to play Scrabble and, being the romantic (deep, deep inside) that I am, I wanted to go on a date that was different and unconventional. We first had an awkward dinner during which I was trying to figure out how we could play Scrabble and then, thankfully, remembered that I had a set at home. I really connected with her on our third date and got to know her quite a bit by then. She was about to leave the city on a trip and I realised I would miss her. That’s when I truly acknowledged my feelings.

Nisha: We met on Tinder, being the fiend for online dating that I am, and hit it off immediately. We played Scrabble on our first date, in order to do something ‘out of the box’. I think it was after I slept over at her’s for the first time, and we just talked throughout the night, learning about each other, that I realised how this had the potential to turn into something really amazing. I knew I had to take things further.

Being polyamorous is universally negatively perceived because people think that those who are polyamorous cannot have lasting and faithful relationships. What would you say to counter this argument?

Bhavya: To me, polyamory is really about giving yourself to all your partners. By definition, it means loving more than one person without preference to one partner over the other. This doesn’t mean that the relationship can’t be meaningful or serious. Since we live in such a monoamorous world, it’s considered impossible. But consider this, almost all of us, at one time or another, have had a crush on, loved, or romantically cared about more than one person. This is no different. It’s been proven that polyamorous people can have long relationships and even families with their partners.

Nisha: I think we need to rethink what we consider a ‘relationship’ and value human relationships for what they are, as opposed to constantly focusing on what they could be, or how to make them fit within a certain appropriate idea. To me personally, committing to a monogamous relationship does not come naturally, I feel like I have to place many restrictions on myself and it often does not feel right. This seems to go against the idea that monogamous love is the ‘natural’ and appropriate way to go. I don’t think it impacts the intensity of my feelings, and even if it does (or even if it seems like I don’t seem to ‘love’ the way you expect me to), as long as I’m satisfied, I don’t see why it is a bad thing. I don’t like to force myself to feel or act a certain way.

How is it like, being polyamorous and queer and living in a country like India, which often doesn’t acknowledge alternate sexualities? How do you counter homophobia?

Bhavya: Coming from the [United] States, I found it extremely difficult at first. Heteronormativity is so rampant in India. I grew up in a place that was so accepting of who you were and really found myself there. After years of ‘not fitting in’ I finally had an identity. Returning to India was difficult and by difficult, I mean panic-inducing. People would stare, talk, laugh about my haircut and my general ‘boyishness’, which led me to become more and more withdrawn. I slowly made friends and came out to them. I was surprised that they were so accepting, even though sometimes they had horrible things to ask. “Have you even tried it with a guy? How do you know if you haven’t?” is the worst. “How do you know you’re straight?” is my usual response because I’ve known about my sexuality since I was 12. I don’t think I would have ever ‘chosen’ this — it happened to me and after years of struggling with the idea, and I’ve finally realised I’m proud of it. This is not a life someone would just randomly choose or not have deeply thought about.

Nisha: It can be stressful and upsetting, and I think we also live in constant fear of some of the very real, horrifying consequences of having this kind of relationship. I’ve ensured that I surround myself with people who are positive and accepting of the way I am, so in a way, I am actually sheltered from the worst of it. But if I encounter homophobia I make it a point to have a civil discussion with the person (unless they appear to have violent tendencies). It seems to be a fruitless endeavour but I feel like it’s the right thing to do.

Share some anecdotes about your coming out stories and/or about how you discovered your sexuality?

Bhavya: Like I said, I grew up in the States. I always knew I was different before moving there. While in India, I thought I was a freak. I had feelings that no one else seemed to have but moving to the States helped a lot. It is where I learnt the term, found out that the idea existed and really became okay with myself. My friends there knew I was queer before I did. I had a huge coming out planned. Heart in my throat, I told them, and got, “We figured” in response. My friends were accepting before I was of myself — even after I struggled with the idea for a while. I came out to my parents when I was 18, ready to head off to college. They thought it was a phase that I would grow out of a couple of years later. Eight years down the line, they’ve given up on the idea. They love me and accept me unconditionally and I’m ever grateful to have such a supportive family.

Nisha: I’m a bisexual woman. I know I have always been strongly attracted to women, perhaps even my first spark of arousal was because of women. I never really pursued this desire at that time, because when I was growing up, it was considered inappropriate and pretty much inconceivable. I’m surrounded by people who are much more accommodating now and am very glad I’ve had a chance to explore this side of myself. For the most part, everyone I’ve come out to (except my parents) has reacted positively — most of them just said, “of course, we knew that and are very happy for you.” My parents don’t like to have this discussion and pretend to be blissfully ignorant.

What is one thing that you love about each other, and one thing that annoys you about each other?

Bhavya: I love the fact that I can have endless conversations with her, they go nowhere but they say so much. In that sense, I really love her brain. It’s intelligent, sweet, even childlike at times. I love how she gives herself away in parts, like an onion. You are left with the anticipation of wanting more but when the time comes for it and not too soon. When she likes you, you know it because she swamps you with affection. She truly and genuinely cares about people. She’s so open and free and brilliantly herself. I think I’ve crossed the ‘one thing’ limit now.

What annoys me is I don’t get to see her often. To be quite honest, this is nothing to do with her directly. She can’t help it. If this were a more open and sexually free country, she would be able to tell her parents and her family would be okay with it and she would be able to spend more time with me. Until then, I’m always eagerly waiting for the next time we can see each other.

Nisha: Just one thing? Okay, I love that she cares so much about the stories other people have to tell and how good of a listener she is. How non-judgemental she is and how well she asks questions. Her perfect curly hair is a close second.

What annoys me, it’s hard to say at this point. I remember, in the beginning, though, that her texts to me seemed like she was disinterested and I wasn’t sure whether she liked me or not. But that was just her way of texting and I’m over that.

With Section 377 being reconsidered by a 5-judge panel, do you think there’s hope for queer love to be accepted and treated with equal respect in India?

Bhavya: Time brings progress, unless we live under authoritarian rule, which we thankfully do not.

Nisha: Always! I like to think we all live in constant hope, otherwise, no one would bother to work towards change. Pride parades are so much more prominent in the public eye now and I think, for the most part, there is, at least, an acknowledgment that alternate sexualities exist, whether people like it or not.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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