By Shambhavi Saxena for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Editor’s Note: Brace yourself for a flurry of promos festooned in pink-red hearts, because guess what time it is! That one day of the year when it’s permissible to be cheesy and sound like a sonnet, the day when corporates cash in on the abstract concept of ‘love’. But if Valentine’s Day is all about love, then why is it blatantly heterosexual? Our law and society are unwilling to accept any love that isn’t between one man and one woman. Queer people are deliberately erased from our TV screens, and even history, and Valentine’s Day is no exception. But just because we don’t hear about queer love, doesn’t mean it isn’t there! In a clear sign of the #WindsOfChange that are here, last year a film brought to us a glimpse into the lives of queer Indians. And on this Valentine’s Day, we are celebrating all kinds of love. We spoke to a few LGBT+ Indian couples and these are their heartening stories of love!
Way back when the Supreme Court delivered that terrible verdict on Section 377, Ipshita and Harjyot, two artists from two different cities, met over Facebook.
“I think Harjyot had just cut her hair,” says Ipshita, “and a lot of her pictures would come up on my feed because a mutual friend would be commenting on them. So then she sent me a friend request, and I was like ‘Ooh, okay!’ but I never thought anything of it.”
Harjyot also remembers how “Ipshita’s drawings would show up on my newsfeed. I was really scared of talking to her because she was talented and cute and stuff, so I would just go through her pictures – very creepy, but yeah I would do that. Until I messaged her saying ‘Oh, hey I really like your work, have a great day, bye,'” she says with a laugh.
“And I was thinking ‘Oh my god a cute girl is sending me messages? She likes my drawings? Whaaat?'” Adds Ipshita.
It took a while before they met offline, and they didn’t start dating immediately. “I had just gotten out of a weird relationship,” says Harjyot, “and same with her. We were just flirting and talking a lot. I remember freaking out before meeting her, and running to all my friends and being like ‘What if she does not like me in person!?'”
“Before we met,” says Ipshita, “we talked about it, and said ‘okay if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,’ and we approached it with that frame of mind.”
“But I was so scared,” says Harjyot quickly.
When asked about reactions towards their relationship, Ipshita answered that the experience was “mostly positive. A lot of things I expected to be worse were better. Personally for me, family-wise it’s been great.” But being in public, she explains, “there was a lot of self-policing. We would think ‘Oh, let’s not hold hands here, let’s hold hands here,’ and having to switch between ‘friend’-‘girlfriend’-‘friend’-‘girlfriend’, around different people.”
Harjyot, who isn’t exactly out to her parents, explains the awkwardness and tension, “when Ipshita was at my house I was like ‘no no don’t touch me, please sit five inches away from me!'”
But they’ve never had to go to great lengths to hide their relationship or make up stories to deflect ‘suspicions’. Harjyot mentions that “Everyone was kind of expecting it. People who heard me skyping with Ipshita would say I had a different tone of voice.”
So obviously, something about public opinion is maturing and evolving. Even though we’re constantly told that Indian people aren’t ready to understand and accept LGBT+ people and their relationships, their experience begs to differ.
“I think we perpetuate some of those myths ourselves,” says Ipshita. “Growing up, the only thing that held me back were the kind of views I held, like ‘my friends will never get this’ or ‘people around me will never get this’, and I’ve been proven wrong many times over!”
Adding to this, Harjyot recalls a conversation with her college photocopy guy – “Two years ago we were protesting 377 and we had stuff painted on our cheeks, and this guy asked us what it was about. At first I was scared, being asked by a random stranger – this person sees me in college all the time – but he said ‘How does it matter to anyone who loves whom?’ He must have been a 10th pass student about whom we might think that he doesn’t have any exposure to this stuff, and so it was a very welcome thing to hear!”
But even if times are a-changing, there’s something static and disappointing about Valentine’s Day. Many, if not most of us, cringe a bit because we’ve come to recognise it as a bit of a capitalist scam – you know, how companies get you to buy their stuff in order to prove your love to somebody? But we also asked these two young artists if they thought it was a heterosexist scam.
“Absolutely,” says Ipshita. “The day doesn’t particularly mean anything to me. I picked up chocolates for her at the airport, and I was trying to make a little package – to me it was just an excuse to connect in a long distance relationship. But other than that it’s pretty much a scam. You don’t need that day particularly to tell someone you love them.”
Harjyot brings up a funny story from when she was in Catholic school: “The girls’ school people were dating the boys’ school people or something. And it was just a big day. So the teachers would try to neutralise it by saying, ‘Valentine’s Day cards for your parents, because it’s Pope Valentine’s birthday,’ or something. Even while I was growing up I thought it was such bullshit that they had a Hug Day, Kiss Day, Flower Day.”
Sure, the whole tradition seems really corny, and frivolous. But after the police took to harassing straight couples in public and private spaces this year, debate has turned to the ‘right to love’. Yet, even then, we rarely talk about queer love. So, could Valentine’s Day be a good platform to do that?
“Possibly,” Ipshita says. “A lot of people will be doing campaigns and photo projects. Just like how Pride march becomes an interesting platform and you see a lot of posts come up on your newsfeed. So on Valentine’s Day maybe you see advertisements that are queer-love oriented?”
But a lot of V-Day shenanigans are created exclusively for straight people.
“If I was to go in and want to get a card or something for Valentine’s day and there wouldn’t be anything – well I’d just make my own,” laughs Ipshita. “But I can imagine feeling…,” and Harjyot finishes her sentence, “…feeling left out.”