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India row after LGBTQ couple marry in Sikh temple

02-10-2023

Bureau Report + Agencies

NEW DELHI/ BATHINDA: While India waits for the Supreme Court’s verdict on legalizing same-sex marriage, an LGBTQ couple’s recent wedding in the northern state of Punjab has made headlines and also created controversy.

Dimple, 27 who uses the pronoun he and Manisha, 21, married in Bathinda city on 18 September with the blessings of their families – something that’s highly unusual in a conservative country like India but what was even more unusual was that their marriage was solemnised in a gurdwara, a Sikh temple – with the bride and groom performing all traditional rituals.

The wedding has been criticised by some religious leaders, including Sikhism’s highest priest Giani Raghbir Singh who declared that “same-sex marriage was unnatural and contrary to Sikh ethics”.

The marriage of two women in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib – the holy Sikh scripture was “a severe moral and religious violation”, he said, and instructed the Bathinda gurdwara committee to suspend priest Hardev Singh, who conducted the marriage, and three others from their duties until further notice.

Hardev Singh has since been removed from his position. In his defence, he said that he couldn’t figure out that both the bride and the groom were female as one of the women was wearing a turban.

Dimple has questioned the claim, saying that they had provided copies of their identity proof to the gurdwara so there was no reason for confusion.

Dimple is from Mansa district while Manisha is from Bathinda – both are remote areas where LGBTQ+ rights are rarely ever discussed in public. Dimple, an upper-caste Jatt Sikh, and Manisha, a Dalit Hindu, met at a garment factory in Zirakpur, a town near Punjab’s capital Chandigarh, where they both worked.

When I met them a few days after their wedding, they looked like any happy newly-wed couple. The couple told me that their Anand Karaj (or Sikh wedding ceremony) was attended by nearly 70 relatives.

In their wedding photographs and videos, Dimple appears dressed as a traditional Sikh groom with the customary garland of flowers tied to his maroon turban, while his bride Manisha is wearing a maroon and gold tunic, salwar bottoms and a silk scarf and both her arms are covered with red bangles.

Dimple, who mostly dresses in a shirt and trousers and keeps his hair short, says when he told his parents that he had no interest in boys, they understood and “extended their support, expressing joy in his happiness”.

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