At a time when the country is debating the acceptability of same-sex relationships, there have been signs of tolerance from Sonachura village in West Bengal’s Nandigram block, too. But those willing to recognise the relationship between cousins Swapna Mondal, 23, and Sucheta Mondal, 19 — among them is Swapna’s mother—- are greatly outnumbered by those who will not.
It’s now eight days since the two died and the police have given up on efforts to get the family to claim the bodies from Tamluk Hospital. Police and hospital authorities say they will wait a “couple of days more” before cremating them among unidentified bodies.
Villagers say it started a couple of years ago when Sucheta was sent to take lessons from Swapna, a Class X dropout. To put an end to the relationship, which in a neighbour’s words was “ridiculous”, Sucheta was married off after consulting a village court. The two women were kept apart and most relatives held Swapna responsible and stopped visiting her house.
A month after the wedding, on February 19, when Sucheta was visiting her parents’ home, the two women sneaked out of the house and went to a paddy field far away. Their bodies were found the next morning, tied to each other with a towel at the waist. Swapna left a five-page suicide note, with the last few lines saying, “Please don’t be angry with me. I could not live without my love.”
Champa Mondal, the girls’ grandmother, rejects the idea of cremating he bodies after the “unnatural” relationship. “I have lost count of the number of times we warned them that their relationship was not natural. We summoned shalishi sabhas (village courts for summary trial) thrice and tried to make them see sense. We don’t want to have anything more to do with them,” says Champa Mondal, the girls’ grandmother.
Their uncle Sukumar Mondal, who was a part of the court, says, “What is the point in cremating the decomposed, stinking bodies?” Another uncle, Ajit Mondal, says, “Let the police do what they want. We wanted to give her (Sucheta) a good life. She chose to die.”
Swapna’s mother Chandmoni Mondal, 50, had stood up for her daughter’s “boyish attitude”, recognised that her daughter loved Sucheta “deeply” and regrets that she cannot cremate her.
The village’s panchayat pradhan, Kalikrishna Pradhan, offered to pay for the cremation but says, “If the villagers don’t want it to happen, what can we do?” Referring to the state in which the bodies were found, he concedes, “It appears they were inseparable and loved each other like a man and a woman do.”
Swapna was the family’s breadwinner, her mother says. “She used to offer teach half the children of the village and earn a living for the family. Yet people in the village couldn’t accept relationship with Sucheta whom she loved deeply.” She says Swapna was also mocked for her attitude and wearing trousers. “At times she used to get upset. I asked her not to pay attention.”
“I got people to coax the girls’ mothers to come and visit the hospital. I requested them in all possible ways to cremate the bodies. Swapna’s mother looked troubled but Sucheta’s mother seemed unconcerned,” says sub-inspector Animesh Chakraborty of Nandigram police station.
“The bodies have been lying in the morgue since the post-portem. We have been instructed to cremate the bodies as per legal procedure. We will wait for a couple of days more and cremate them along with unidentified bodies,” says a hospital source. The legal procedure is to hand over unclaimed bodies after a period of time to a dom (crematorium assistant).
Sappho, a Kolkata-based NGO that works for the LGBT community, is the process of forming a fact-finding panel.