Human Interest
Sreeja, a trans woman married Arun Kumar, a cis man, on Wednesday. The temple management opposed their wedding – which is when Bharani stepped in.
Image Courtesy/ Twitter: @ramnellai

It was a nervous Wednesday morning for Bhoomika and Aarthi, who have been busy planning their friends’ wedding for the past 15 days. With phone calls made to the media and police the previous evening, they were hoping that their friends’ wedding will sail smoothly. However, when Sreeja, a transgender woman, and Arun Kumar, a cisgender* man, reached the temple in Thoothukudi where they were to get married, they faced hurdles from the temple management. But thanks to a friend – also a trans woman – Sreeja and Arun finally managed to get married.

Sreeja, decked up in bridal gear with a red-chequered saree and gold ornaments, rode pillion on Bhoomika’s scooter while Arun Kumar, her groom in a silk veshti and shirt, rode with his friend Aarthi to the Shivan temple in Thoothukudi. With cameras everywhere, the shy couple made their way into the temple. However, when Bhoomika went to the counter to ask for a marriage receipt so that they could produce it to the priest who would then hand the thaali to Arun Kumar, the temple management reportedly refused.

When asked for a reason, the management simply returned the money that the couple had paid for the wedding rituals, and asked them to go away.

‘No third gender column’

“We paid Rs 600 the previous day and produced all the details of the couple, including their Aadhaar cards. The management said we would get a receipt in the morning with which they can get married. We need to produce the receipt for a marriage registration certificate,” says Bhoomika over the phone from Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu.

So why were they turned away? Bhoomika says that the form they had filled the previous day had only two columns for gender – male and female. Sreeja’s Aadhaar card identifies her as a transgender woman.

“We have been running from pillar to post to help our friends get married. The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department said there should be no problems with our friends getting married at the temple, when we checked with them in person. But the Brahmin priests at the temple would not budge. They kept hiding from us when we asked questions. They returned our Rs 600 and the details we submitted. They told us that, legally, they cannot get married,” recounts Bhoomika.

Aarthi adds, "Had they refused to do it yesterday, we would have made alternate arrangements. But they refused it in the last minute and the auspicious time was nearing for the tying of the knot."

Standing their ground

Thinking quickly, the duo realised that Bharani, a trans woman and a friend, used to work as a priest in the same temple. With Bharani taking over the reins of the ritual, Sreeja’s uncle handed the thaali over in the temple premises.

A tired Sreeja, who has just finished her wedding meal, says over phone, “Having been together for over a year, we got the confidence to marry only after the Section 377 verdict. This refusal was a shock to us because we are both Hindus. Why can’t we get married at a Hindu temple? But thanks to the support of the media, the HRCE Department and the police, we were able to get married. I have been very lucky.”

An elated Arun Kumar says that his only regret is that his parents had not attended the wedding. “Everyone supported us, that’s why we were able to get married. It would have been better if my parents had also understood that this is the life I want,” he says.

The couple, who then proceeded to register their wedding, met an understanding registrar who only asked that they get an attested letter from a notary public instead of a marriage receipt.

“The marriage registration was also done efficiently. The registrar did not ask us for the temple receipt. We even cut a cake outside the temple and shared the celebrations with the police and the media!” says Bhoomika.

NOTE: A “transgender person” or “trans person” is someone who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. A “cisgender person” or “cis person”, on the other hand, identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.