The day after the Kerala High Court intervened on Monday to reunite lesbian couple S Sreeja and BM Aruna, who had been forcibly separated by Aruna’s parents in August, the couple said on Tuesday that they wanted to show the world that there was nothing wrong with living with a partner of the same sex. “We want to show society that same-sex couples can also lead normal lives,” said Sreeja.
On Tuesday, the two women were back at Sreeja’s home in Kollam district where they had lived together for just about a day on August 12 before Aruna’s family forcibly separated them.
“I am so proud to come home with my partner,” said Sreeja. “My mother would have been the happiest person if she were alive.”
The High Court order came barely three weeks after the Supreme Court read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to decriminalise consensual homosexual acts, and after Sreeja filed a habeas corpus petition before it on September 12.
“This was the first same-sex rights case filed in the Kerala High Court after the Supreme Court trashed Section 377,” said her lawyer Ferha Azees.
A love story interrupted
Sreeja, 40, and Aruna, 24, first met through a lesbian dating site in 2016. From casual chatting, their relationship grew stronger and the couple decided to marry in July.
On August 12, Aruna left her family home in Thiruvananthapuram and went with Sreeja to her home in Kollam district. Aruna’s parents filed a police complaint that same day alleging that their daughter was missing. The couple were detained at Neyyattinkara Police Station in Thiruvananthapuram district on August 13 and were produced before a magistrate’s court in Neyyattinkara the following day. The court hearing the missing person’s case ruled that Aruna was free to go with Sreeja, but Aruna’s parents and their goons attacked them outside the court and abducted Aruna. According to Sreeja’s petition, they subsequently admitted Aruna to a mental hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. Though hospital authorities allowed Sreeja to meet Aruna there, they insisted on a court order to allow her to leave the institution.
Following Sreeja’s habeas corpus petition, Aruna was produced before the High Court on September 24. She then told the court that she wished to live with Sreeja, leading the court to rule in their favour.
Sreeja works with a business firm abroad while Aruna is a post-graduate. Sreeja lost her father when she was a child, and her mother, who succumbed to cancer in 2012, brought up her two children doing unskilled jobs. “I had told my mother that I am a lesbian,” said Sreeja. “She was worried about my future, but she never scolded me. I could not complete my studies as I went abroad to ensure financial stability for my family.”
Her work helped her clear her family’s debts. Nine years after she started working abroad, she bought the plot of land on which her home now stands.
Sreeja says she is certain the apex court’s September 6 ruling decriminalising homosexuality influenced the High Court’s order on Monday. “When the LGBTQ community in India rejoiced at the scrapping of Section 377 on September 6, I cried the whole night [because she was separated from Aruna],” she said. She added that she even sent a message to Aruna that day, informing her of the importance of the Supreme Court’s verdict and how it could help them. “But her parents had confiscated her phone and did not allow her to contact me,” said Sreeja. “I was totally in the dark about her whereabouts. I met her 19 days later at the High Court on September 24.”
Sreeja added that she would not have won her legal battle without the support of Queerala, a support organisation for LGBTQ people from Kerala, and Human Rights Law Network, which provides legal aid to the underprivileged.
Queerala founder Jijo Kuriakose said his organisation was pleased to help same-sex couples who wanted to live together. “We are happy to get a positive order from the court,” he said. “We hope it will bring about a change in society.”
Sreeja and Aruna say they are now waiting for same-sex marriage to be legalised in India. “We are waiting for the day when we can register our marriage,” said Aruna.
As they begin life together, both women say they hope to work towards changing society’s attitudes towards LGBT people. “Society believes that people with same-sex partners are mentally unstable,” said Aruna. “The Supreme Court had observed that sexual orientation is a natural phenomenon determined by biology and science. I hope society in Kerala understands this.”