Throughout South Asia, homosexuality has been a taboo subject. There are signs in some areas that gay people are now becoming more open - but that is not always the case. In the latest in a series of articles from the region, Sutapa Mukerjee looks at a problematic lesbian relationship in Allahabad, India.
Usha (L) and Shilpi say they loved each other at first sight
"It has been more than two weeks since we spoke and I haven't seen my partner for almost a month. Life is not the same for me anymore," says Usha Yadav.
Hailing from a middle class family in Allahabad, a town in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, Usha first met her girlfriend Shilpi Gupta through a common friend a year back.
Since that first meeting there was not a single day when they did not meet or talk to each other.
But now the two lesbian lovers are not allowed to meet.
'Same way of thinking'
Shilpi's parents are keeping her under virtual house arrest and she is even barred from using the telephone.
Usha is 20, a graduate and up until recently had been working as a computer instructor. Shilpi is 22.
Usha does not shy away from stating that "it was love at first sight".
She says it started when they began chatting and discovered they have the same way of thinking.
"Shilpi understood my problems and was very supportive. I started loving her. She wanted me to write to her and would often send back the letters after leaving lipstick marks on them as a token of love."
Before long, the two could not stay away from each other even for a day.
Usha believes there is no reason why she should feel guilty or ashamed of loving another of the same sex.
"I guess I am made differently. I have never felt any affinity for the opposite sex.
"As a teenager I loved another girl from my class in school but we too were separated as her parents were transferred to a far-off town."
Usha became angry when Shilpi was engaged to be married in mid-January.
"I hated the idea of her living with another. Shilpi too hated every bit of it, as she had no interest in the guy."
Shilpi's father says that she repeatedly turned down marriage proposals with men because of her "lesbian relationship with Usha Yadav".
This social pressure directed against the pair made them defiant.
"We decided to live together," confesses Usha.
But their elopement in January 2005 to a remote town in Gujarat proved to be short-lived.
Shilpi's parents lodged a complaint against Usha for "kidnapping" their daughter. They were produced before a magistrate in Allahabad who ordered both to return to their parents.
The police official dealing with the case, Sarvesh Kumar Mishra, said that the pair demanded the same cell and "shared a deep love".
Shilpi said they were no different from a married couple and that they would not be able to live without each other.
Today Usha can come and go but Shilpi is restrained at home.
"She is not allowed to interact with any outsider," says Usha.
"Every time I call her, I am told she is not in. I can't concentrate on anything and have been spending sleepless night without her. I am sure she, too, is suffering."
The pair say they are determined to keep in touch
But Shilpi's mother, Madhu Gupta, takes a different view.
"It was Usha who misguided my daughter. I had never imagined that the two would elope. It is God's grace that we got back our daughter.
"There can be no doubt of that Usha has a perverted mind."
None of the family members at Usha's house have brought up the subject of her love affair since she returned home.
Despite this Usha is not comfortable. "Every time I step out people in the neighbourhood make catcalls. 'Where is your husband, Shilpi?' they ask me."
As Usha and Shilpi struggled with their relationship, a second incident occurred in Kanpur, 150km (100 miles) east of Allahabad, where a lesbian couple tried to commit suicide.
They said they were in despair because their parents had made them marry men.
Several organisations have now demanded that the law be amended to allow same-sex marriages.
Legal experts say the government should consider the recent advice of the Supreme Court to re-examine the issue of same-sex marriages.
They argue that it is the democratic right of people to choose their partners and the state should not interfere.
When Usha heard of the suicide attempt she said the two girls were cowards.
"Shilpi and I are much stronger. Even if she is obligated to marry another I am convinced of carrying on our relationship outside her marriage until society is compelled to accept us."
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.
Homosexuality in India has been a fact for centuries. Why shy away from it now? And if we are truly democratic, then why deny homosexuals their birth rights?
Kapil Komireddi, London, UK (Originally from India)
The government of India should amend the marriage laws and allow same-sex marriages to take place. Let people choose what they want.
Pritpal Singh, UK
You can't help who you fall for, it's as simple as that. Any good parent would want their child to be happy with their partner. I wish Usha and Shilpi the best of luck and the courage to take on the establishment.
Being a Muslim, I would strongly condemn this growing trend of homosexuality. The media is very much responsible for creating confusion in the minds of young and vulnerable girls and boys. Even if there is a tendency of being attracted to the same sex, it should not be popularized and encouraged, as its ultimate consequences are a chaotic and messed up new generation who don't know where to direct their energies, and hence indulge in such acts.
Asima Iqbal, Pakistan
This is typical of Indian society, unfortunately. Parents are more concerned about society's opinions than the happiness of their kids. There is no doubt that homosexual relationships can be extremely difficult for parents in such a conservative society to accept and understand, but that does not justify the sort of pressure that these two women have been exposed to. Moreover, both of them are legal adults and can live their lives as they choose to do.
I'd be interested in knowing on what grounds the magistrate ordered them to "return to their parents" and on what basis one of them is being held under house arrest by her parents. If they really are determined to live together, they should just leave their parental homes and deal with the inevitable hassles that will come their way.
Rustam Roy, London, UK
If this relationship is natural then society cannot do anything. In a country like India where friendship between a boy and girl is not easy and two girls can easily have contact can also be the reason for a gay relationship.
Harish Dixit, Germany
How long did it take for the West to accept gay/lesbians? That is, if they have. America is still divided along the middle over gay rights and same-sex marriages, and gay phobia is not unheard of. Compare that to a society where sex has always been considered a social taboo, and things are being dealt in the typical Indian way - barricading the revolting children to their home, with the subject-in-question never being mentioned at home, and the society hurtling catcalls at every opportunity. Still, it is has to be accepted it is hard work for these couples. And in a society like India, any couple, even straight, if they want to marry against their parents' wishes. So best luck to them!
Manav Gupta, UK
To suggest legitimacy for gay relationships is to sanctify the culture of our times that breeds deviates, be it Elton John or Shilpi. The issue here seems to be a destruction of the family and of the community, which has let lose a vicious chain of individual idiosyncrasies, where you are not guilty until you are caught, and sex of any kind is not taboo, as long as you don't get Aids.
Jasabanta, Kolkata, India
I read your article about a lesbian couple in India and I am ashamed to say that even though I live in India which regards itself as the world's biggest democracy, it's only on paper. Your choices are made by other people. They tell you what to do and what you can't. The society I live in dates back to the Stone Age. We follow rules which are antique and very colonial British rules which are 145 years old.
Holding hands and walking on the road, public display of affection are frowned upon here. Talk of sex and people will stare at you. You can't roam around at night for fear of being harassed by the very people who are assigned to protect us - the police. Talk about homosexuality and they will mock you. The city I live in Chennai has its own share of gays, lesbians and transsexuals but society treats them like beggars. They resort to harassment sometimes. This is pathetic.
Right from your childhood your choice is made by other people. This has got to stop. Indian society is deep rooted in religion. I come from an orthodox community and when I question religion my parents object. But come what may, I have the freedom to make a choice. The world is moving towards the 22nd century but we are stuck in the 18th. It is time people of different sexual orientations are given their due. They have the right to make choices. This is their life. Nobody controls it.
Of late I have been seeing a lot of articles on same-sex couples from the South Asian region. While it might be an issue of national importance in some of the western countries (it was one of the major issues on which recent presidential elections in US were fought on), it is far from being even a gossip issue in South Asia.
The story in South Asia according to me is that of hunger, survival and a new found zest for growth, development and a determination to become economically independent. Golf and gay marriages are issues understood and discussed by the elite classes where as an average person is struggling to make his ends meet. Such frequent reports and square feet of print space devoted to these topics relating South Asia is extremely disturbing as it appears to be trying to tell the rest of the world that gay marriage/relationships are major issues in South Asia at the cost of drawing the attention of the world to the real issues and great success stories.
This also suggests at an intellectual sloth of the personnel covering South Asia who are happy projecting the western issues as the issues of the world. They are too lazy to get down from the ivory towers and dirty their hands in the real issues.
Even though same sex relationship is up to the individual, legalizing same sex marriage tantamount to protecting and encouraging it. The question is, is it necessary? In my experience same sex relationship does not come from the heart as these news reports make out (which they do to sensationalize news). In India particularly sex education is limited and many people who are adventuring in their age fall at the hands of unscrupulous elements and are exploited. They may want to come out of it but are either black-mailed or have no other choice, hence they bear with it. Except juicy news reporters no body else can find truly loving same sex couples.
R Balajee, India
I am very much amazed reading this article, I myself a Muslim cannot imagine having a relationship like this in my religion and as far as I know the same is the case with Hinduism. On the other hand I don't think that Indian society will ever accept this kind of relationship so making amendments in the law would be out of question.
These things are seen in the West and we can't bring them here because we have our own social values no matter if you are a Pakistani or Indian. As far as democratic rights are concerned then there are other rights that need to be fulfilled and should be taken care of first.
Bilal Qureshi, Pakistan
It is a shame that even in a democracy like India people are not free. I am also bewildered by the fact that both the girls are adults and how can a court intervene in their personal lives when both are consenting. Every human being living in a free country has the right to express his/her freedom in any which way keeping in mind that they do not expunge on the freedom of others or break the law. The above girls are doing neither; if they are breaking the law of same sex marriage then it is an artefact of the old constitution of India which needs to be changed. This is a refreshing step in that direction to alter things (rather than commit suicide or back out).
Mayank Jaiswal, India
Lesbians in Asia is becoming too rampant. The government should enact a law that will bind all these girls from such a frivolous act.