Is it just about sex and physical intimacy? Or is it about emotional sharing? Or does caring for each other form the core of a relationship? The answers are many with most of the senior citizens who prefer to spend life in relationship without any intact.
Relationships are complicated. Defined and undefined. Waiting to fit into a template. Wanting to be different. Every relationship wants to be unique. Yet, they long to be recognized and respected. Everyone wants to belong somewhere, anywhere.
In Indian society, family remains the predominant relationship that holds everything together, and even tries to define every other societal relationships. Family becomes the reference point for most other social interactions. When friends are important to you, you say they are ‘friends like family’. Whenever you get into an argument with your house help, you console them by saying that they are like your family. In fact, many of us imagine our lives to unwind like the script of a Bollywood film which celebrates the idea of a family and mostly has a happy ending.
The institution of family has changed over the years. From large extended families to nuclear ones, socio-economic factors have changed how a family is seen. That said, the Indian family remains torn in many ways, between tradition and modernity, urban and rural, consumerism and conservatism. Through all the changes though, the idea of family remains deeply rooted in heteronormative idea of marriage. A man grows up to marry a woman. A woman grows up to be married to a man. Sooner than later, they have a kid. Any kind of deviation is treated as an existential threat to the very institution of the family, perhaps because all of it is closely tied to property and inheritance.
The heteronormative foundation of marriage has no fixed rules, yet it is bound by a belief system that excludes anything that doesn’t agree with it as “not normal”. If you deviate from the gender norms, you are not normal. If you deviate in sexual orientation, you are not normal. If you aren’t fit enough to propagate the family, you are not normal. If you are a single mother, divorced or separated, you are not normal. The laws of the heteronormative world are unwritten and yet very restrictive.
In that context, it was a pleasant surprise that a recent judgment by the Supreme Court of India affirmed that same-sex couples and non-traditional families are entitled to same social benefits as ‘traditional’ i.e. heteronormative ones. The two-judge bench also observed in its judgment that “familial relationships may take form of domestic, unmarried partnerships or queer relationships.”
The observation comes as a ray of hope for queer persons and non-traditional families across the country, who struggle to open a joint account in banks or apply for maternity leave. However, one wonders if this observation will usher in any real change in the society. The reason for this skepticism lies in the fact that despite the abolition of Section 377 and recognition of trans people as third gender, the stigma and discrimination that these communities face hasn’t gone away. In fact, there is a constant threat to these rights as they get challenged in courts across India.
What this judgment really does, though, is to challenge the idea of a heteronormative relationship as the only ‘normal’ relationship. It also forces us to stop and question the invisible rules we have set for ourselves when looking at a relationship. What is a relationship? Is it just about sex and physical intimacy? Or is it about emotional sharing? Or does caring for each other form the core of a relationship?
For the heteronormative world, a marital relationship is mostly focused on the propagation of the family. In fact, there is so much pressure around it that unmarried women are constantly reminded about the ‘ticking biological clock’. Even when we expand that idea to queer relationships, most people imagine it as primarily some sort of a sexual relationship. What happens when there is no sex in a relationship?
In the queer reimagining of families, relationships can take many shape. Companionships, friendships and co-living are all legitimate forms of being with each other. In that sense, they are all as fulfilling as any other relationship. The same goes for many disabled people who find companionship in caring for each other. These relationships not only help foster bonding but also create a community of individuals who are interdependent on each other, forming beautiful relationships that are beyond definitions laid down by the heteronormative beliefs. But do these relationships seem legitimate enough to deserve social benefits?
We live in a fast changing world where the nature of relationships is also changing. Beyond humans, most of us have evolving relationships with animals and plants around us. We have an intricate relationship with technology which is both constructive and destructive. All of these relationships are not subsidiary relationships. For many of us who live in urban India, these are the core relationships which help us to get through the day. If you zoom out, this really broadens the idea of what a relationship can be.
While it is slightly far fetched to expect that society will acknowledge even obvious relationship, such as between a cat and their cat parent or between a visually impaired person and his guide dog, both of whom care for each other and support each other physically and emotionally, a reimagining of relationships in a broader sense will help us understand and respect the diversity of bodies, sexualities and genders within the confines of the human society and varied forms of existence outside it.
Without that acceptance, no progressive law can really transform societal view on queer and non-traditional families. These judgments do, however, fill us with hope and help us in dreaming of a more accepting and tolerant world. And in times like these, where hatred is more accessible than the idea of love, hope can help us live our lives, as we wait for the world to change. #livehyd #hydnews