The impassioned suicide note on Facebook is the strongest argument for the repeal of Section 377.
I heard about the suicide of the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) doctor via a report in Gaylaxy Magazine, a sensitive webzine that covers gay issues. The Gaylaxy story, as you will notice, does not give the details of the victim, nor of the husband, but presents the facts of the case in a manner that makes its central point – the prevalence and shocking outcomes of gay men marrying women – clear.
The Gaylaxy magazine piece was up on Sunday as news of the suicide spread, so I expected there to be some mention of it in the Monday papers. Sure enough The Times of India ran a story (I am referring here to the Bangalore edition of the paper) on Page 6 that, after giving the broad facts of the case in the first paragraph, proceeded to name the victim and the husband, including the departments they worked for at AIIMS. By late Monday morning, pictures of the victim and her husband had been shared widely on social media.
The victim chose to end her life after writing a detailed post on Facebook in which she shared the details of the mental agony she underwent as wife to a man who not only denied her conjugal rights but mentally tortured her for expecting them. The settings for the post on FB were public, so that anyone who knew her name could access the post. It is possible that the victim may have deliberately made her settings public so that the widest circle of people hears her story.
It is equally possible that she may have not given much thought to the issue and may have liked the settings to be private had she known that the story would blow through the roof the way it has. We will not know the answers to these questions since she is no more. Meanwhile, the husband has been arrested in a case of abetment to suicide.
Some of the reactions in social media, as is the wont of this space, was focused on the content of the victim’s FB post. Addressed to her husband, a line in her post read: “You are not a human being; you are a devil who took away my life from me. I never wanted anything from you but due to your abnormal sexuality you thought I needed sex from you but that’s wrong.” Some commentators took objection to her use of “abnormal sexuality”. I think that’s just splitting hairs. Here was a woman who was undergoing hell on account of the abuse dished by her husband, yet who wished to do everything in her power to save her marriage. Look at the context in which she uses the term. She was perhaps referring to her husband’s (gay) promiscuity and in trying to make sense of it, she may have correlated it with his homosexuality. That she stresses that she was not looking for sex indicates that her husband was giving her grief on that account. To someone like her, everything about her husband, including his sexuality, would indeed appear abnormal. Locating glitches in what she wrote is akin to wondering whether a person is capable of writing a politically-correct suicide note.
What she said is important, not how she said it. All said, in spite of her views of him, she did, and regrettably so, chose to stand by him until the bitter end.
The question of whether TOI or the wider social media fraternity is correct in revealing her name is moot. For the longest time Jyoti Singh Pandey was referred in the media as Nirbhaya in a nod to a widely followed media policy that desists from naming victims of rape. In a society where rape still has deeply entrenched connotations surrounding honour and shame such a policy is most prudent. However, after Nirbhaya’s death, a number of publications did reveal her real name, and after the release of the documentary India’s Daughter, her parents came out to defend their daughter’s memory.
It was important, I agree, to rescue her memory from anonymity and tell the world that this was the woman who, in spite of being assaulted in the most brutal fashion on that December night, had managed to retain a fighting spirit to the very end. It was by revealing her real name that we were not only celebrating her indomitable courage in the face of gross adversity, but also putting a face to an issue that had roiled the nation.
I think a similar yardstick need apply in the AIIMS doctor case. While I have chosen not to reveal her name in this article, I do not have a valid argument for doing so. Yes, the case is sensitive and the law will decide what is to become of the husband, but none of that changes the fact that she killed herself. As a doctor, she perhaps had other recourses to get out of a bad marriage, but saying that is to trivialise the very real indoctrination around the strength of the marital bond that we inculcate in our children, especially our daughters.
Her Facebook post makes it abundantly clear that she was trying desperately to make her marriage work but received not a whit of tenderness from her husband.
Here is a real problem that several women in this country have to deal with. Remember a similar case occurred in Bangalore last year except then the wife chose to report her husband’s indiscretions to the police and got him arrested under Section 377. None of the names made it into the papers. While the anonymity principle well serves the reporting of such cases, the case of the AIIMS doctor is qualitatively different. The fact that she is no more changes everything. We cannot dress up the case in the banalities that attend marital discord and which perhaps call for a degree of sensitivity in reporting such cases.
In her death she has raised an issue that needs urgent legislative attention. Her impassioned FB post is the strongest argument for the repeal of a law that continues to encourage such social neuroses as marriages of convenience. When gay men find that not only social structures but even the law does not support them, they seek to build straight families that, for obvious reasons, are weak simulacrums of the real thing. It is then that we have cases such as the suicide of the doctor. The question is not why she did not opt out of the marriage. She should have yes, but by putting the ball in her court, we deviate from the central issue: the illegality of homosexuality in this country.
By reporting her name and details, the media may have, in the final analysis, done some good in humanising what would otherwise have been just another story of marital problems. In so doing, the media has brought the truth of a social malpractice into our homes in a way that commentary and opinion can rarely achieve.