Arrested after falling for another woman

Sanjida in her home village

When Sanjida left home to study, she met the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. The only problem – her partner was another woman, and same-sex marriage is not accepted in Bangladesh. Now, instead of finding happiness, she’s facing criminal charges, accused of abduction.

In January 2013, Sanjida, a 20-year-old Bengali Muslim woman travelled from her village in south-western Bangladesh to a small town, to continue her studies. Her father, a schoolteacher, had chosen to send his cleverest child to college so she could help lift the family out of hardship.

The town of Pirojpur, where Sanjida moved to study Bengali literature, resounds with rickshaw bells, the Muslim call to prayer and Hindu temple hymns.

Sanjida heard of a room for rent in the family home of a Hindu potato seller, Krishnokanto. Impressed by Sanjida’s studiousness and “good character”, he asked her to help his youngest daughter, Puja, with her studies.

Image caption

Sanjida at the temple complex, where she went with Puja

Though Krishnokanto’s family liked her, they found her openness and the way she dressed in jeans and T-shirts a little odd for a young woman from such a traditional village.

In April 2013, during the Bengali New Year festival, Sanjida was in charge of taking a group of girls to the fair. When it was time to leave, she went into 16-year-old Puja’s room.

“She was brushing her hair in front of a fan. She asked me to sit on the bed. Her back was turned toward me,” Sanjida remembers.

“She was wearing an olive green blouse and petticoat. The back of the blouse had two strings that were hanging loose. At that instant, I fell in love with her.”

To start with, Sanjida kept her feelings to herself. But later on that day something happened that convinced her Puja had similar feelings for her.

Find out more

You can listen to Women in Love in Bangladesh on Assignment, on the BBC World Service, on Thursday 28 January from 00:30 GMT, or catch up afterwards on iPlayer.

“She said to me, after we wandered around the fair, ‘Can I have a picture taken standing next to you?’ I said ‘Yes.’ She went to stand on my right. Then before I could think of anything, she just kissed me and asked a friend to take a photo,” Sanjida says.

“It stirred up something inside me.”

The young women knew their love would not be accepted in their conservative, provincial town, so they made plans to elope.

Three months later, in early July, they took a rickshaw to the town’s 17th Century temple complex surrounded by a lotus pond. There, standing before the moss-covered Shiva temple, the girls exchanged garlands of flowers and married, with the gods as their witnesses.

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Sanjida outside the Shiva temple, where the young women exchanged garlands

Sanjida marked the parting of Puja’s hair with vermillion powder or shindur – the emblem of the married Hindu woman.

According to one of the priests at the temple, even such a simple wedding – if carried out between a heterosexual couple – would indeed have been valid according to an old Hindu marriage tradition known as the Brahmo way.

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