Chennai- A recent directive from Madras High Court has the power to turn queer people’s lives toward a positive direction. The court has recently asked the state government to establish a process for the registration of the 'Deed of Familial Association.' This initiative aims to officially endorse same-sex relationships, elevating the status of individuals in such unions within society.
A petitioner of the ‘Deed of Familial Association’ is Prasanna J. from Tamil Nadu. He openly identifies as a gay person and is out to his family and workplace. But for him, it has been slow progress. He has a partner, and both have been together for 17 years. The Mooknayak spoke to the petitioner about his long legal fight and the driving force behind it.
The court's decision stemmed from an application brought forth during the proceedings of a case initiated by a lesbian couple, originally seeking protection from their relatives. Throughout the hearings, the court had issued multiple directives with the aim of advancing the well-being of LGBTQIA+ individuals.
In this particular instance, the intervenor requested the authorities to issue appropriate orders recognizing deeds of familial association. Prasanna J. opened up about his struggle as a queer person in conservative society. He said, “Once you have been with someone for a longer period of time like us, you would automatically want to progress through certain societal milestones in your relationship. That was the motivation behind wanting to seek recognition.”
“In 2018, while we were searching for a rented house to live together, questions regarding our relationship and marital status were always posed to us. In Indian society, it is very common to ask such personal questions. We realized this will just continue as we grow older. Housing will become more of an issue. As we are in a good economic situation, we could afford a house. We bought one and did not think twice initially.”
The petitioner revealed the realization that hit him and his partner during the pandemic. According to him, things took a turn when COVID hit. “I became extremely ill. My SPO2 level went down, and I had to take the help of oxygen cylinders to maintain a normal level. I had to get hospitalized immediately. It was then we both realized that if something were to happen to me, the whole process of us building a home together and whatever we had built cannot be passed on to my partner. The house is registered under my name since there is no provision for us to register together. One can only get it registered under their blood relative or spouse’s name. That’s when we went out to seek help from different organizations. We both want to safeguard each other.”
“We have been together for almost two decades now, but there is no measure to protect each other. It is as simple as that.”
Many queer people feel dejected and decide to go and settle in a nation that is comparatively more favourable to the LGBTQIA+ community. But this is not what Prasanna and his partner want. On being asked why the couple did not leave, the petitioner had a direct answer. He said, “The simple answer to that is this is home. This is where we felt like we belong. We did not feel like running away. Because we have been running away for a very long time; right from our childhood, we have been running away from school, friends, mates. We have been running away and hiding from society for a very long time. We are now frustrated and tired of constantly running and hiding. If we move, we will move as a recognized couple.”
Like almost all LGBTQIA+ individuals, the couple was looking forward to the same-sex judgment. “We were also hoping for the Supreme Court judgment, but that did not turn out the way we hoped. So, we took a different route to see if there are any other options, even if marriage is not on the cards. All we are fighting for is the rights and recognition that come with matrimony. That is what we are trying for at the foundational level. Being recognized as a partner will be the next step.”
He continued, “Even the disappointing Supreme Court judgment did mention that two consenting adults can choose to be with each other, irrespective of gender. If that is true, then I should also be able to protect my loved ones in every way possible.”
Absence of recognition has an effect on every aspect of life. The distressed petitioner said, “Currently, I am hunting for a queer-friendly health insurance policy as I am not able to include my partner's name in the already available ones, which is heart breaking. The only policy where I can include my partner is the one provided by my company. As I work in a multinational company, so it is based on their goodwill. The same applies to my partner as well. We still do not have life insurance as my partner cannot be a beneficiary in that. There might be other means of supporting our relationship, but the bottom line is, it should not be that difficult. I should not be jumping through multiple hoops just to make sure my family is taken care of.”
That is not all. Prasanna added, “Apart from financial and other protective measures, the lack of recognition has also affected our career growth. Since I am working for an IT company, I had received multiple opportunities to go abroad. These would have been incredible for my career graph. Since my relationship is not recognized, there is absolutely no way in which I can take my partner with me. If we were a heterosexual couple, I would not have thought twice. I could have immediately moved abroad and brought my partner along with me through a dependent visa or any similar documentation process. But right now, none of these provisions exist. So, I had to turn down multiple offers that way.”
Deed of Familial Association is a new concept. No state of India has a provision nor has any court suggested in that direction. Prasanna further revealed how they came across the concept. He said, “A professor of IIT Madras named Tiju Thomas helped us in understanding the concept and do the research part of DFA. Ajitha, our advocate, also played a major role in it. Moreover, I was the petitioner who was willing to provide my story to build a strong case. This is how we were able to file it. Multiple organizations fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights helped us in our case as well.”
The fight is not over yet. But the next step will require more patience and hope. “The next step would be for the government to take. The High Court has provided a direction and recommendation for the state to look into. A committee under Tamil Nadu’s Social Welfare Board is also drafting policies for our community. The High Court has suggested them to include DFA into their policies as well. Now we are just hoping the government will start the discussion at least. So, the ball is in the state’s court now. It is a small step but one in the right direction.”
The petitioner added, “I am not sharing one experience. Ours is just one story among the many experiences our community has gone through.”