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It may be 2018, but we are still surrounded by closed minds. Take inter-religion marriages for instance and the honour killing of Ankit Saxena sends shivers down our spine. At a time when 'who' you marry becomes a topic of 'public interest', we applaud the courage of Hrishi Sathawane, an Indian-born and US-based engineer who tied the knot with his partner on the 30th of December in his hometown Yavatmal, Maharashtra.
Hrishi and Vinh's wedding story went viral on social media and people cheered the couple for their honesty, for their courage and for sharing their special day with the world. The ceremony was attended by around 100 people, including Hrishi's friends and relatives. In a WhatsApp chat with us, the newly married Hrishi shared his adorable love story, life after marriage and being accepted by his family for being gay.
On how they met...
Vinh and I met on the online dating website okcupid.com in late Oct 2016. We exchanged emails and were soon talking over the phone. I proposed to him on 2nd April 2017. After dating for a little over a year, we got married on the 30th of Dec 2017.
Those little moments that made him realise that Vinh is 'the one' for him...
There wasn't one single moment when I realised that he is the one. With each date, we grew closer to each other. When I first met his parents, his mom really welcomed me and that was one sign. When we did a road trip across Austalia, we spent a whole week together...there were fights for which we made up and grew stronger and there were some really special moments too. That was another sign that he is the right one. When I met his entire family at his cousin's wedding in Sydney, that was another one of those moments. After the wedding, I continued on my road trip to New Zealand and he came back to the US, but we were in touch every day. Feeling the contrast between doing the trip alone and how enjoyable it was with him was yet another one of those realisations about my feelings for him. Then during this part of the road trip when I was alone, I came across a coffee shop owned by a gay couple in a remote area in New Zealand. Something happened to me, I missed him very much and realised how much I had fallen for him already. I called him and for the first time told him just how much I loved him.
The adorable proposal with Hrishi's family in attendance!
In Feb 2017, my friend Arvind mentioned there will be a record bloom of California poppies at Antelope Valley, California State Reserve in March-April. When I mentioned this to Vinh, he got really excited. Finally, it was the first weekend of April when we could make the trip happen as it was a 6-hour drive from where we live. A couple of weeks before the trip I told my parents that I'll be proposing to him and so they joined in. After visiting many other places, we landed at Antelope Valley. I proposed in the midst of it and it was a complete surprise for him. My sister caught everything on camera... The proposal, his surprised expressions, the ring exchange and then toasting it with a drink. After that, it was a long drive back home. My sister drove and we were in the back seat...all lovey-dovey.
On how people in his hometown reacted to the wedding...
The reactions varied from being very supportive to not reacting at all. Most of my classmates and teachers were supportive but the family friends had a lot of questions before they agreed to come to the event. Some relatives welcomed Vinh in the family but were not comfortable with the wedding happening in Yavatmal. Some relatives made excuses to avoid attending the celebrations whereas others were extremely enthusiastic about it. At the end of the day, 100 brave souls made it to the wedding. Many more did support us but were not brave enough to show up.
On how different it is in India & the US when it comes to acceptance...
The US is a society where individual freedom is valued more than what the society says. It's pretty much the opposite in India! Most of the battle in India is to convince the near and dear ones that an individual's happiness is of top priority, because anyhow, 'bolne wale to bahana nikal ke bolege hi'.
In the US, there is a strong religion-based opposition to homosexuality. In India, the opposition is from perceived departure from the norm (of studying, getting a job, marrying, having kids, taking care of parents... Rightful duties of an honourable man/woman). However, once you show that it's only a minor departure in the sense of marrying someone of the same sex as against opposite sex and the rest stays the same, people are surprisingly very accepting. I'm sure my academic and professional success helps make that argument more convincing.
On life after marriage...
Vinh and I have been living together since early 2017 so for us, there is no major difference. We've learned to live with each other, fight and make it up. We're already used to each other's food and other everyday habits.
This wedding did make my parents very anxious initially. However, how the Yavatmalkars responded to my wedding did a lot to help them to feel at ease. I received a flood of messages and friend requests on Facebook and LinkedIn after the news went viral and I believe it made a difference to the morale of the Indian gay community. Not only the fact that it happened but also how the press later covered the news in a very positive light.
Sexuality is not the only reason that marriages are opposed in our country. Be it religion, caste, economic backgrounds, people have to fight hard to gain their parents and society's acceptance. Your message to them?
As I said before... In India, everyone is expected to follow a trajectory. Any deviation is strongly opposed and becomes a target of mockery by 'samaj'. Parents marry within the caste as they think they get more reliable insider information on the character of a would-be spouse. If you can convince them that they no longer have to worry and that the person is reliable, then it's easier for them to get onboard and face the 'samaj'.
How exactly you convince your parents takes a lot of patience. At least it did for me. The universal message of love is, 'If two people want to spend a loving life together and it is not harming anyone, then it should be no one's business to oppose their relationship'. Parents should worry more about what will make their children happy and what they want to get out of their life than what the 'samaj' says... Since samaj will say something today and move on to the next gossip topic tomorrow. You should not let that impact your lifelong happiness.
Vinh & Hrishi look forward to adopting babies in the near future. We wish the couple all the happiness in the world. Congratulations, you guys!