Priya Vedi was a 31-year-old woman doctor at AIIMS who slit her wrists and killed herself. In her suicide note, she claimed that she was no longer able to bear the torture her gay husband put her through and his constant demands for dowry. Her husband, a dermatologist at the same institution, did not reveal his sexual orientation prior to tying the knot leaving Priya to deal with the repercussions of an unconsummated marriage for five years. Priya's status on Facebook revealed, "In spite of knowing this (him being gay) I decided to help him to b(e) as a wife with him. But he tortured me a lot mentally. And at (sic) last night he tortured me emotionally so I am unable(e) to take breath with him. And last Dr (K)amal (V)edi I loved you a lot and (in) return you took my all happiness from me. You are not a human being you are a devil, who take(sic) away my life from me."
Here is Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code:
377. Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section.
Who is the ultimate culprit in the death of Priya Vedi? The government? Her husband? She, herself? Age-old attitudes? Who?
A million questions arose in my mind as I read the horrendous nature of this situation. A doctor at a prestigious medical institution was compelled to kill herself after allegedly being harassed for dowry and being unable to bear that her husband was gay. In today's world, where there are a million resources - support organisations (for both LGBT and women), the internet, professional counselling and so much more - what propelled Priya to her untimely death? What sort of desperation drove her to not seek help but instead kill herself? Why did she not walk out of the marriage and seek a divorce?
"I cannot divine all the reasons why Priya took her life. But it seems that the most likely reason is the attitude that a woman is not to leave her husband's house, except on a pyre."
And what about her husband? Yes, LGBT rights in India are still in their infancy and regulations like Section 377 do not make it easy for people to come out but I cannot help but ask why he simply didn't refuse to get married? Was the pressure so great that he decided to ruin a young woman's life? Did he not think of the consequences this situation might bring? Or did he simply not care as long as his life stayed unchanged?
A similar incident occurred in my extended family a few years ago. One of my cousins, a closeted homosexual, had to bow down to the pressures of marriage. But a year later the façade crumbled and his wife left him. This happened in a small town in India and the woman he married was not very educated. This truly boggles my mind. A woman without resources and limited education could bring herself out of her mess so why did a doctor not seek help and try to solve the problem? Why did she think only death would bring her solace?
I am not blaming Priya. I have immense sympathy for what she had to put up with. I cannot even fathom how a young life, brimming with hopes and aspirations, came crashing down when she discovered her reality.
A statement Priya made, though, bothers me. She wrote, "...I decided to help him to b(e) as a wife with him." What did she mean here? Did she think he needed help? Did she think being gay was a disease and he needed to be cured? Unfortunately she is no longer here to answer this, but if that is what she meant it is troubling that, again, a doctor at a prestigious Indian institution harboured these thoughts.
Ultimately what does all this mean? I have always maintained that true progress, 8% growth rate, etc. etc. does not mean anything unless there is a fundamental shift in our attitudes. I cannot divine all the reasons why Priya took her life. But it seems that the most likely reason is the attitude that a woman is not to leave her husband's house, except on a pyre.
"Society forced Kamal to marry Priya and not reveal to the world his sexual orientation. While he shares most of the responsibility, is he the only one to blame?"
Society forced Kamal to marry Priya and not reveal to the world his sexual orientation. While he shares most of the responsibility, is he the only one to blame? What about our beliefs that homosexuality is a crime or, even worse, a disease that needs to be cured? What are we to do with our homophobia that does not grant human beings the right to be themselves but instead hide their real lives and ruin others in the process?
And what about the dowry claims? Kamal is now arrested and charged under sections 498A (dowry-related cruelty) and 304B (dowry death). If a doctor, earning a good living and having a high position in society, believes in dowry and can harass his wife for not bringing enough, what hope exists for the rest of us?
This case is ugly, not only because of what happened but also because it shows us a side to our culture that we tend to hide. It shows us the hideousness that can result from a lack of gay rights, and the tragic consequences of social stigma. It highlights that dowry exists everywhere, regardless of social position and education. These attitudes are so ingrained in our psyche that no one is immune from them - be it farmers, workers or even doctors. In the end, our education levels are only ways to make money. They have not contributed in differentiating our beliefs at all. And that is pathetic.