Married in UK, lesbian couple fear lack of support back home in India

Married women lose the battle to stay on in the UK; fear ostracism and lack of legal protection back home in New Delhi

London: A married lesbian couple, in their mid-30s, cling on to each other in what could be the last few days of their life together. Following the expiry of their visa and fearing that their relationship would not be legally recognised in India, the couple had requested the UK immigration tribunal to let them continue living in the UK. They lost their legal battle on May 12, when the tribunal turned down the request.

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The two women have been living together since they arrived from New Delhi on student visas in September 2007. Their decision to leave India was prompted by its conservative attitude to homosexuality, and they enrolled as students at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. Calling the UK their home, both work with an energy provider.

In 2008, the two entered a civil partnership in the UK, which allowed them the same rights and responsibilities as a legal marriage. After same-sex marriages were legalised in 2014, the couple took their marriage vows in Glasgow.

While one of the partners said she would not give in to family pressure to enter a heterosexual marriage in India, the other was afraid that she might succumb to similar pressures. They raised concerns that they would not be able to open a joint bank account, own property together, adopt children or undergo an IVF treatment. The court did not see any merit in these arguments.

“They are legally married but when they return to India, they will have no access to any legal protection or recognition of their genuine and subsisting relationship,” argued Barrister S Chelvan, who represented the couple.

A long journey
The couple has been petitioning immigration authorities since 2011, after their post-study work visa expired. They were skeptical of returning to New Delhi, and alleged that they had suffered “verbal abuse and jokes from the general workforce because our close friendship was noticed.” They also alleged that they were “ostracised and discredited in a way that heterosexual couples who work together are not.”

The couple approached the Secretary of State for the Home Department in July 2011, and invoked Articles 8 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the basis that their family life would face threats in India. When their appeals were turned down that September, they approached the First Tier Tribunal (FTT). The FTT used a 2001 report — Human rights violations against sexuality minorities in India — to dismiss the appeal, citing that most persecutions using Section 377 of the IPC were related to sodomy, not same-sex relationships.

Right concerns
The FTT, however, agreed that the evidence “paints a very poor picture for lesbians in India. However, without a doubt it paints a picture of an improving situation.” It suggested that the couple could return home.
“Delhi is where penal codes were altered two years ago to decriminalise homosexuality,” it said. LGBT activists in the UK are hesitant to show much support. An activist told mid-day that India is “not as nightmarish” as some African and Middle Eastern countries.

A lawyer said, “Since the couple came with the intention of gaining asylum on the grounds of their sexuality, an asylum would have set a dangerous precedent.”

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