Samantha Syverson (India)

Samantha Syverson (Vikalp Women’s Group): Sam worked as a legal intern at Ocean Conservancy where she worked with a coalition of environmental groups lobbying for policy change in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. At the time of her fellowship she was studying at the Georgetown University Law School, where she was an active participant in the Community Justice Project clinic. Sam was part of a clinic team which visited Vikalp in spring 2011, and she returned in the summer with fellow-student Meredith Williams to serve as an AP Peace Fellow.



Sonu and Rekha – the story

19 Jul

Sonu and Rekha both come from working class migrant communities from different regions and religions. They met in Halol where Sonu lived with his mother, who rented a space in Rekha’s family home. Sonu was born female but identifies as male. The two are close in age and over time their friendship developed into love.

Sonu and Rekha look happy together even though they are in the police station.

Sonu and Rekha look happy together even though they are in the police station.

On January 1, 2006 Sonu and Rekha ran away together. Rekha’s family charged Sonu with abduction and theft. Rekha’s family along with the Marwari community convinced the police to detain Sonu’s parents, alleging that they had helped the couple escape. Both parents were held for 4-5 days. Sonu’s brother was also detained to put pressure on Sonu to return. The police held him without legal justification for 3 months before a lawyer was able to secure his release.

Sonu and Rekha evaded detection for several months before they were finally caught on March 5. The couple was brought back to Halol and kept at the police station there. While in custody, both partners were examined by a male doctor to verify their sex (Rekha’s family thought that Sonu was actually male) and age (if Rekha had been under 18 the abduction charge placed on Sonu would have been converted to a kidnapping charge). After being held for several days, the pair was finally brought before a magistrate. In a groundbreaking judgment the Magistrate said: “Rekha and Sonu are both 18 years of age. Both have the right to live their lives independently as per the rules of the Indian Constitution, there cannot be any restrictions on them.” Outside of the courtroom the town was in chaos. The case had gotten so much media attention, everyone wanted to see what would happen. The police had to try to control the throngs of people so that traffic could move. Word spread that Sonu and Rekha had been granted their freedom by the court and when they finally emerged from the courtroom people tried to pelt them with stones.

Photographs of Rekha and Sonu appeared in newspapers all over Gujarat.

Photographs of Rekha and Sonu appeared in newspapers all over Gujarat.

Despite the judgment, it was not safe for Sonu and Rekha to stay in Halol. They did not want to stay in shelter homes and could not return to their families if they wanted to be together. Police escorted them out of town in a jeep and as they left Rekhs’a family tried to pull her out. Police drove the couple to Baroda where they stayed with Parma for several weeks. People around Baroda began recognizing the pair from all of the coverage in the newspapers and the leaders of Parma felt it was no longer safe for them in Gujarat. Parma arranged for the couple to go to Bangalore to stay with an organization called Sangama. Going from Baroda to Bangalore – a large city with different language and food – was too much for the couple and they returned Baroda to stay with Parma for a few days while a new solution could be worked out.

Parma contacted Sonu’s father and arranged for the couple to go back to Halol to stay with Sonu’s family. Sonu’s father signed a letter stating that he agreed to take the couple and was responsible for their safety. He also agreed to contact Parma if he needed any additional help in the future.

Continued family tensions and difficulty finding work took their toll on the couple. Although they still shared love and passion, they also fought frequently. In the end, Sonu was the one who ended the relationship by calling Rekha’s family to take her back. When Rekha’s family arrived to retrieve her, Sonu couldn’t cope with the reality of the situation. He ran to the bathroom and poured kerosene on himself and his brother had to forcibly stop him from finding matches. Rekha embraced Sonu and told him all he had to do was ask her to stay and she would. Sonu was silent. The relationship was over.

Posted By Samantha Syverson (India)

Posted Jul 19th, 2011

1 Comment

  • iain

    July 19, 2011

     

    This is really interesting, and very sobering. What a sad story. But it does put a human face on the problem, and that at least helps us to understand.

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