On September 6, 2019, India will mark one year of reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law that has historically criminalised gay sex in India. While it’s a landmark verdict by the Supreme Court of India, the Indian queer community continues to fight for other civil rights, including the right to marriage and adoption. Moreover, social acceptance lags far behind legal privileges, with the stigma that has bred over centuries continuing to rampantly exist. In the middle of this struggle is 30-year-old photographer, videographer and activist, Monisha Ajgaonkar—who runs The Photo Diary and is one of the top wedding photographers in the country. She tells VICE about what it’s like to be lesbian and shoot occasions that the queer community can still not legally have for themselves.
I am the only wedding photographer in India who has come out as a lesbian, as far as I know. When you shoot someone’s wedding, it’s a big deal. Someone is trusting me to capture the memories of one of the best days of their life, something they might show their kids and grandkids someday, and that means a lot to me. But as a lesbian who wants to fall in love and get married some day, it’s also a little heartbreaking. A wedding is usually a big, fat family affair in India. Even as I’m genuinely happy for the couples I photograph, one thought keeps running through my head: I probably won’t get to do the same.
Being lesbian in India who wishes to be in a committed relationship is tough. In a way, gay men are luckier. They are not just better accepted but also have so many apps to meet like-minded gay men. We just have Bumble and Hinge, and even in there, you don’t know who’s real and who’s looking to just experiment. I don’t feel safe out here; the atmosphere has too much negativity. Also, people often show interest in you because you might be famous and have money, instead of wanting to be in a relationship with someone they vibe. Everyone I have been in a relationship with has not come out, which makes it difficult for me. Not everyone has the courage to fight their parents and demand acceptance when it comes to who they love. Which is why, I’m now looking to escape this country and move to Canada in a couple of years where I can be free to love whoever I want to, and show it in public as well.
My family and I haven’t been on talking terms ever since I came out a decade ago. Luckily, I have great friends and colleagues. Even better, on the occasions when the clients I work with have found out about my sexual orientation, or if they have come to know about my queer activism, they have told me how proud they are of me.
In a personal capacity, I have always spoken up about the challenges and insecurities that the queer community in India faces. In a project I worked on in 2018, I presented a lesbian wedding in which I was dressed up as the ‘groom’. Considering lesbians in India are largely invisible, many of whom are stuck in heterosexual marriages, this was my way of saying that love is love, at the end of the day.
When I see people getting married, I can’t help but think that I have everything needed to start a life with someone: a good career, money, ability to have a good house, and a willingness to take on responsibility. I even know where I want to get married (Morocco), what kind of a wedding I want (three types, actually—a Christian one, a Maharashtrian one and the one that my wife would want, but all of it would be one big music fest!), and who will be on my side of the guest list (friends and my doggos).
All I need now is a bride.
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