Kerala Couple Boldly Challenges Taboos by Having a Transgender Person as Witness on Their Wedding

Marriages are made in heaven; or so goes the old adage. To the contrary, traditional Indian marriages are usually controlled more by political and economic considerations than anything else. A typical Indian ‘arranged’ marriage is often a big, fat affair that involves a lot of wastage – of money, resources and what not. But for a change, a couple from Kerala decided that their marriage should be a simple affair and that it should carry a message for the society.

Ramnath from Alappuzha and Shruthi from Wayanad have been friends for about a decade. They met as young activists of Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP), a people’s science movement. Both are now researchers and are pursuing PhD in Social Sciences.

Eventually when they decided to get married, they agreed on a couple of other things too. One was that the bride will not wearing any golden jewellery – something unthinkable in a typical marriage in Kerala. In most marriages, the amount of gold worn by the bride is almost a matter of prestige and an important criterion for judging the ‘size’ of a wedding.

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Their second decision was that the marriage would be devoid of any religious rituals and would be solemnised as per the special marriages act, 1954. And the most imaginative and progressive decision was that the witnesses to the marriage would not comprise of men, but only women and a transgender person.

Though Kerala is known as a relatively progressive state in certain aspects, it is rigidly hetero-normative. Any talk on gender fluidity or non-cis gender identities are usually frowned upon. Elements of popular culture like cinemas have always portrayed transgenders and homosexuals in very poor and negative tones.

Though the state was first to declare a transgender policy of its own, acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ community to the mainstream society is still a distant goal.

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Even though the last five years have seen a number of movements in the right direction, including the annually held Queer Pride marches and some positive media coverage, presence of transgender people in social gatherings and ceremonies is unfortunately considered inauspicious by many.

Even getting a voters’ ID card as a transgender is still a herculean task. This was the reason why Ram and Shruthi decided to take on the age-old stigma on its head and make a bold and progressive statement using their wedding as a tool. Sheethal Shyam, a transgender activist and Secretary of the Sexual Minorities Form, Kerala (SMFK), was invited to sign as a witness for the marriage held at the Sub-Registrar’s Office, on May 20, 2016. In all probability, this was the first time a transgender person was made a witness for a marriage in the state, and probably for the first time in the country. The other three who signed as witnesses were all women from the families of the bride and groom.

The bride wore simple jewellery made with cereals and jute and gold was avoided altogether. Only a small number of people comprising of family and friends were invited.

The couple also gifted study materials to a dozen children under state care, sharing the joy of togetherness with them.

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Through this marriage, a non-confrontational, yet elegant and powerful example was set against the elements of tradition built upon patriarchy and regressive vanity. Sheethal later wrote on her Facebook wall that the wedding was one of the happiest moments in her life. An activist and friend of Ram and Shruthi said in a Facebook post that on first look, his school-going daughter could not digest the idea of a bride who wore no gold. Indeed, this was a moment of joy for a lot of people, and also a declaration from two youngsters to the world that all humans are equal, and deserve to be treated so.

– Chinchu. C

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About the author:  Chinchu C is a research consultant, science activist, psychologist, and a very reluctant-and- occasional writer. He is connected with the People’s Science Movement of Kerala and also to forums such as the Free Software Movement of India and the Malayalam Wikipedia.

All views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The Better India.

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