BY NOREEN FAGAN - Yes! Human rights prevail, for a while anyway.

Finally something has been done to help a married lesbian couple in India whose lives have been threatened by relatives and friends.

On July 26, the police stepped in and moved Savita, 25, and Veena, 20, into a safe house, where they will have 24-hour protection.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the two were married in a civil ceremony in Haryana, close to New Delhi. The couple first approached the court complaining that Savita had been forced to marry against her will, and that she had left her marriage after telling her husband she was in a relationship with Veena.

Savita was granted a divorce, and the two women were married in a court ceremony on July 22 — India’s first lesbian marriage.

That should be a cause for celebration, but what followed is not.

The couple returned to their home village only to be greeted with threats of violence. Harayana has been the centre of protests by villagers who believe that their village councils should be allowed to impose their own punishments — mainly honour killings — on those who disobey their rules or break tradition.

The couple, fearing for their lives, returned to the courts, which is where the police stepped in.

The women’s experience highlights the schism between social acceptance of homosexuality and the law. In 2009, the high court overturned a colonial law that declared homosexuality to be a crime punishable by 10 years in jail.

A recent countrywide survey by the CNN-IBN television news channel revealed that as many as 73 percent of Indians believe homosexuality should be illegal. The poll, which was conducted in urban neighbourhoods, showed that 83 percent of the respondents felt that homosexuality was not part of Indian culture.

It’s not only civilians who object to homosexuality; some politicians and religious groups vehemently oppose it. Their rhetoric is nothing new — homosexuality is an evil Western import, it’s immoral, against local culture and unnatural. Under that clime, the fear of being ostracized runs high, and even though Delhi and Bangalore have held Pride parades, many of the marchers wear masks to hide their identity.

It always seems to be one step forward and two steps back for gay rights. But my congratulations go out to Savita and Veena — I hope they will be happy and safe.
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