06/09/2018 3:07 PM IST | Updated 06/09/2018 4:56 PM IST

Section 377 Verdict Lets This Punjab Policewoman And Her Wife Live Without Fear

Manjit and Seerat Sandhu's love is a reminder of the countless daily rebellions in towns, cities and villages across India.

Manjit Sandhu

JALANDHAR, Punjab—When Manjit, a jail warden with the Punjab Police, married her girlfriend Seerat Sandhu in a big fat Punjabi wedding in June 2017, the wedding at the Pakka Bagh temple in the city had more curious visitors than the family members of the bride and her groom.

The pictures showed the couple sitting on a horse-drawn carriage at the head of a large procession en route to the temple as their well-wishers looked on.

Yet, their excitement turned into embarrassment when the photographer they hired for the wedding leaked their wedding pictures online. As the photographs went viral, the couple were harassed by their their neighbours, and Manjit's superiors in the Punjab Police asked her to submit an official explanation.

Indian law does not recognise gay marriage, and — until a historic verdict by the Supreme Court this morning — gay sex in India was a punishable offence.

"Even though our love was as pure like that of any ordinary human beings, the society considered it lust," said Manjit. "Now, the landmark judgement has proved it wrong and I do hope that it will bring smile to hundreds of couple like us."

The struggle to overturn Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era law that criminalised sexual acts "against the order of nature", has been portrayed by detractors as an elite, metropolitan cause pushed by a few well-connected activists.

Manjit and Sandhu's public profession of their love, at great personal and professional cost, is a vivid illustration of the universality of desire, and of the countless daily rebellions in towns, cities and villages across the country. Punjab is one of India's richer states, with a thriving farm economy, yet the region is also deeply conservative in many ways — particularly in matters of gender and sexuality.

Manjit and Sandhu's wedding is still not legally sanctioned, but Thursday's Supreme Court verdict means that the couple cannot be prosecuted for simply being a gay couple in love.

The story of how the two women found each other upends most conventional notions of marriage at a time when a significant number of Indians still rely on their parents to find them a spouse.

READ: Section 377 Verdict: Why Gay Rights Activist Gautam Bhan Spent 14 Years Fighting This Legal Battle

Looking Ahead

Unusually for most couples, Manjit and Sandhu met in prison. Sandhu was an under-trial, wrongly accused of murdering her husband; Manjit was her jailer.

"I was struck by how sensitive and caring Manjit was," Sandhu recalled in an interview. When Sandhu was acquitted of all charges in 2016, she met Manjit after her release from prison, and the couple soon fell in love and were married a year later.

"Initially it was tough to convince our family members but later things got easy when they agreed," said Manjit who is presently deployed at Modern Jail, Kapurthala. Manjit said the police department also gradually came around, but they still had to endure countless daily humiliations.

"It is hard to get travel visas, as we can't get my name included as Seerat's husband in her passport," said Manjit. "We have won the first battle, we are yet to break our deadlock with the society."

READ:Supreme Court Decriminalises Gay Sex, Heeds India's LGBT Community's Long Struggle