The ‘Agnipariksha’ of the ‘Sita’ never ends. Since time immemorial, women have always been the solitary ones put to test, test to prove her innocence, test to prove her fidelity, test to prove that she is the coy Indian bride who irrespective of how well educated or well-read, has to incessantly strive life-long to be the sole torchbearer of marital bliss. The Indian Woman is the unsaid and unappreciated ‘Hercules’ of our cultured Indian society and her shoulders bear the weight of her family’s ‘Izzat’.
So when Dr. Priya Vedi decided to end her life because it was increasingly becoming unbearable for her to carry the weight of the innocuous yet obnoxious family ‘izzat’, her decision suddenly caught the living room syndrome of the country. Everywhere there was a buzz of how a promising life was wasted. Her colleagues talked about how cheerful she was at work, her friends spoke about how lovely the couple were, and everyone else who did not know her were talking about how she could have taken the easy route of divorcing her gay husband rather than choosing such a radical step. May be she did may be she did not but who are we to judge her? We live in a society where patriarchal values are so profound and deep-seated that it is very difficult even for a well-educated young woman just to walk out of her dying relationship. A society which is always ready to blame the woman even if the man is at fault! A hypocritical and biased society where a woman has to constantly fight for her place; first to be alive in her own mother’s womb, then born alive out of it, and then the life long struggle of soaking up all the rejection that come her way, fight them valiantly, sometimes failing and sometimes emerging victorious, but everytime just on her own, alone.
As a woman, we all are expected to endure whatever comes to us with ease. Whether it is the demeaning tone ridiculing the colour of the skin or the ridiculing tone of not looking married; whatever the tone but the same reaction expected, accept it. And I am sure Dr. Priya Vedi was also expected to do so. Her father in law’s comment soon after her death that ‘it is the responsibility of the Indian woman to make the marriage work’ reflects not only his thought process but also of countless other Indian father- in-laws and other Indian men and women. Maybe Dr. Priya did whatever she could in those five years of marital life. Maybe she thought that with her love and dedication she could change the sexual orientation of her husband. Maybe she thought she could have an otherwise normal marriage and a straight husband. Maybe she thought she could change the deception she had been administered to and have a happy married life. Yet after all these efforts and after all the daily pretends, it was seemingly unbearable for her to carry on with her fake happy life. What triggered her to take the extreme step is a question which will never be answered. Probably the prolonged internal and physical battle she was exposed to bore its fruit by taking away her life. Probably the depression of the relentless mental and physical torture, of not being able to share the pain with her family and friends because of the imposter called the ‘izzat’, was too much for her to condone any further.
When I think of how Dr. Priya Vedi shared her life with a person who had different sexual orientation, I am instantly reminded of a movie ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. One of the many lives shown in the movie was the life of two queer men, one Indian and another a Britisher, one married with a child and another staying unmarried because of his different sexual inclination, separated because of the perceivable social and religious alienation they faced because of this different sexual inclination. One option given two very different choices made. One accepting what he is and the other pretending to be what he is not; one choosing the life of solidarity while the other choosing the social decree.
I somehow manage to empathise with the husband of Dr. Priya Vedi because he did not choose what he was, he was born with it. And how much ever Dr Priya or anyone else would have tried changing the sexual preferences they wouldn’t have succeeded. Being born in a country and in a society where being a queer is legally illegal and socially unacceptable; the predicament that Dr Priya’s husband faced forces me to empathise with him. But somehow, I am not able to sympathise with him. Why? Because although he had different sexual preferences, he was a well-educated, independent man who could have convinced his parents and stayed away from getting married thereby sparing another human being and her family of all the traumas and deception. Instead, he chose to get married consciously and torment an innocent life to the extent of pushing her to the brink. I cannot even imagine what Dr. Priya would have gone through to see her husband having sexual relationships with other gay men, who were common friends, and all that she was entitled to for being a supportive and secretive wife was his apathy and abuse. A constantly throbbing open wound which got freshly wounded every day and all she could do is pretend, pretend that everything is unscathed and unhurt!