For forty years they held out against the social institution of marriage, holding strong to their views that their love did not need the sanctity of a thaali (mangalsutra). They were barely out of their teens when they first met each other. In a year, they had made the decision to live together and over the next four decades that's precisely what they did. Live, work, have a child and nurture their family - the thought of legalising their union never occurred to Kunjukunju and Leelamani. But on 7 November 2014, Kunjukunju decided to legalise his relationship with his long-term partner, not out of personal compulsion but to help ease administrative hurdles that faced their young grandchildren.
"It was our decision to live like this, unmarried. But it should not affect our children's future, society won't allow us to live in the way we want anymore," says Kunjukunju.
He could not bear to see his son's struggle to secure a caste certificate for his third child because of the lack of legal papers to prove his parentage. Government officers in charge of issuing this in their village of Ettumanoor in Kottayam district of Kerala had refused to issue one till Kunjukunju and Leelamani produced a legal document confirming their married status.
"We love each other more than any other married couple around us. Still that warmth of love remains between us. So I never found a necessity of a thaali to bind us," proudly said Leelamani. The couple had met in Leelamani's native Maragattupally, Kottayam, in 1973 when he was 19 and she was 18. A year later, Kunjukunju decided to elope with her back to his hometown of Ettumanoor as her family was against the relationship. Through poverty and the struggle to earn a livelihood, they toiled together, building their lives and a family, uncaring of the strict codes of the society around them.
"They are a perfect couple, they commute together, work together and they have their food together. They've done so for more than four decades. I did not even know that they were not legally married until I was invited for the function," says A.O Chandrappan, President of the Kerala Sambavar Society, the community the couple belong to.
In a show of affection and respect for the couple, the community hosted their wedding and a lunch in grand style. Has life changed now that they are legally married? A pensive Kunjukunju says there were other considerations why he decided to give up his rebellion against societal norms that he doesn't endorse.
"If there is no legal marriage certificate, after my death my wife may be abandoned and might have a chance to lose the right over my property. I don't believe anybody, so I wanted her to be secure and safe though am not with her," says Kunjukunju holding Leelamani's hand tight to his heart.
"Moreover, since we are economically poor and from a backward caste, nobody is ready to help, they find reasons to trouble us. So I did not want them to have new reasons for them to trouble my children and my wife because we weren't legally married". He adds that though the couple never faced a legal hurdle all these years, a new village officer refused to issue a caste certificate to their third grandchild.