It is not an overstatement to say that the biggest cultural events in India are the ‘Big Fat Indian Weddings‘. After all, in our culture, marriage is considered as a ‘scared’ duty that everyone must fulfil – never mind the red flags, or the fact that the rituals performed are outdated, patriarchal and nor queer inclusive!
The whole charade requires the hiring of the perfect wedding planners, managing to put together a detailed itinerary of the venues, games, food, photographers, guest lists and at least five fab outfits for each function, all but to celebrate this ‘mega important‘ life event. With various TV shows, jewelry advertisements and film sequences centered around the dreamy and emotional wedding ceremonies, who wouldn’t want a glamorous Karan Johar-esque, Sabyasachi clothed, palatial destination wedding?
With the Covid 19 pandemic restrictions in place, the year 2020 saw a fleeting shift of weddings to the digital space where the designated priest officiates the nuptials from the comfort of his home. However, 2021 brought attending weddings in person back into style accompanied by some new rules. Among all the celebrities who made the news last year for their grandiose weddings, urban India also witnessed the first traditional gay wedding. On 18th December 2021, Abhay Dange and Supriyo Chakraborty announced to the world on Instagram that they got hitched, desi style.
The wedding reportedly took place in the outskirts of Hyderabad, Telangana, attended by friends and family. The couple performed the whole nine yards of quintessential filmy wedding rituals and included Mehendi, Haldi and Sangeet, finishing it off with a ring ceremony where they exchanged vows and promised a future with each other.
The reason this is historic is because gay marriages are still outlawed in India. With the revocation of IPC Section 377 (which criminalised sexual acts “against the order of nature”) in 2018, the queer community has been demanding legalisation of same sex marriages.
In recent times, many more stories of queer couples getting married are coming out on social media. Most gay couples who got married chose traditional rituals because legal registration is still not possible. The story of Samudra and Amit who met in the USA and got married in a traditional Maharashtrian ceremony way before gay marriages were even legalised in Indiana, USA was also featured by digital portals.
This shows that even if the law is slow to change, society and culture perhaps is changing at a faster speed. Talking about the culture of wedding itself, I believe there is something very special about Indian weddings. It is one such event that is marked by traditions but also can be changed as per the wishes of the parties holding and attending the event.
One welcome change is that the young couples today are prepared to bear the costs of the ceremony upon themselves while traditionally the bride’s family bears all the cost. This pressure of bearing wedding costs is not only on the rich, it trickles down the poorest of the poor who are coerced to perform these practices for social acceptance. Sometimes, the cost is so high that many families have had to take loans, struggling to repay them all their lives.
Over the years, along with the overlapping of regional wedding traditions such as baraat (ceremony where groom comes to the bride’s house with his entire family to marry her in Hindu tradition) at South Indian weddings and South Indian cuisine at North Indian weddings, we also see many youngsters opting out of the patriarchal rituals such as kanyadaan (giving away of the bride by her father to the groom), vows to obey husband, and so on.
Instead, they are cherry picking the fun events at weddings such as the Mehendi, the Sangeet and ring exchange ceremony, and a promise of lifelong love. Some even rewrite the hymns to announce that the partners will be considered equals after marriage, forgoing the patriarchal conditioning that the man of the relationship is superior and woman must be subservient to him.
Actress Dia Mirza took the internet by a whirlwind when she shared photos from her own ceremony in Feb 2021. She hired a female pundit to officiate her marriage and also advocated for a zero waste wedding. She talked in length about the importance of locally sourced flowers for decoration and locally sourced food for the guests which helped her not only to cut costs but also promoted sustainable living.
This is not to say that queer weddings are socially fully accepted. Of course, legally we still have a long way to go. In 2019, the Madras High Court passed a judgement where the court validated the marriage between Arunkumar and Sreeja (a transwoman) under the Hindu Marriage Act. Though this was a huge win for the trans community, the basis of validation was that the couple’s self-identity neatly aligned with the labels of ‘groom’ and ‘bride’. What about those who don’t fit these categories neatly?
Marriage in itself is an institution that reinforces the binaries of gender and gendered power structures. But queer weddings and weddings of couples who subvert the problematic elements of the structure of marriage in terms of contribution to domestic work, rituals, finances and the like, are important negotiations that young couples are making to fight patriarchy’s mandates about how marriages should be. The celebration and acceptance of queer weddings as well as weddings where we see female pundits, sustainable rituals, lesser costs. etc., helps to normalise these negotiations and lend more acceptance to all kinds of love and marriages.
The cultural acceptance of homosexuality and queerdom is only the first step. Hopefully, this year we get to see and attend more and more culturally feminist and queer weddings so we have a strong basis to challenge the archaic laws that do not recognise queer marriages and demand equality for all as is promised by our Constitution.