I am often accused of being skeptical of “inclusive policies” announced at the institutional or state level. For instance, on the 3rd anniversary of the decriminalization of Section 377, i.e., September 6 this year, Axis Bank launched the ‘Come As You Are’ campaign as an offering to make banking services accessible to the LGBTQIA+ community in India.
Despite the commemoration, Anisha and Bhakti’s experience of being a woman-loving-woman couple who wanted to open a joint savings account at the bank shows how systemic change is deep, long-term work and can hardly be fixed by a short-term awareness campaign or a superficial fix in the nomenclature.
The question of the validity of their partnership sans marriage was raised by the on-ground staff at the Seven Bungalows (Mumbai) branch of the bank. How does one prove the bond we have with our chosen family in the absence of its recognition? In the face of being continually denied the rights and protections guaranteed by the marital institution, gender and sexual minorities continue to face discrimination and struggle to access the most basic services like housing, banking, etc, in a country that has branded itself as en route to becoming (or is it ‘being’) Digital and Smart.
Although the Constitution favours the safeguarding of the rights of minorities through special provisions, the Centre has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the need for such reforms with regard to the marital institution, despite several petitions at the Delhi High Court challenging cis-heteronormativity in this matter. The next hearing has been scheduled for the 30th of November, when both sides will present their concluding arguments, but if the courtroom drama leading up to this is to be considered, the Centre is unlikely to budge and the matter will likely be presented at the Supreme Court in the coming times.
The lack of recognition of queer relationships also causes inadvertent harm to cis-het folx. Most recently, a young woman from Thrissur, Kerala, eloped with her girlfriend to Madurai AFTER her wedding to a man, as arranged by their families. She admitted to waiting until after the ceremony so she’d have access to the gold and therefore, some material security to start her new life. In a world where you cannot marry the person you love nor can you access basic banking services because of your sexuality, could she be faulted for being strategic? Unfortunately, the man she married suffered a heart attack following her flight, and had to undergo an angioplasty procedure. Collateral damage or systemic oversight? You be the judge.