It’s always intriguing when you encounter a story with gender roles so complicated that nobody can report it without lots of scare quotes to signify the ambiguities. This is exactly what’s happening in the bizarre Krishna Sen case from Nainital. For clarity, we’ll refer to Krishna with the gender-neutral pronoun “they”, as it’s currently unclear with what gender Sen identifies.
Or is it?
Krishna Sen from Nainital, 25, formerly known as Sweety Sen, reportedly disguised themselves as a man for four years, and befriended and married two women, Kamini and Nisha, in that time. Both women were led to believe they were marrying a man, and lived with each other and Sen in a rented house in Haldwani, Nainital. Sen’s now-absconding mother Nirmala also apparently met their families and attended wedding festivities as the mother of the groom.
Sen was arrested on 14 February when the first wife, Kamini, filed a dowry harassment case after Sen allegedly beat her and took Rs 8.5 lakh from her family to build a factory. The second wife, Nisha, has claimed that she discovered the truth about their marriage in 2016, but kept quiet about it after Sen gave her some money. Fresh reports reveal that Sen planned to marry a third “already-married” woman, date a student from Dehradun and had left in their wake a stream of duped florists, mobile phone sellers and caterers.
Sanjay Joshi, sub-inspector, Kathgodam, who was investigating the case filed by Kamini, has said that the charges against Sen have been amended to forgery, impersonation and fraud instead of the original dowry harassment since “technically she was not a husband, therefore it cannot be treated as marriage”.
Here’s where this gets interesting: Is this a case of a woman impersonating a man to avail of that wonderful world of male privilege and all the dowry that comes with it with no fear of legal retribution, or of a self-identified man who abuses and harasses his wives?
Kamini told ANI that Sen would do many things to maintain the so-called ‘ruse’ of being a man, including drinking, smoking, walking confidently, riding bikes with male friends, and abusing, while the two wives were stuck together in the room in Haldwani. The behaviours Sen adopted when “pretending” to be male are pretty telling, and are all basically deep dives into the fun things men are allowed to do while women are cooped up in small rooms with each other. Was Sen cleverly leveraging gender roles to oppress members of their own gender to enjoy male privilege? (Even the media seems to have fallen for it — most have been happy to adorn the words “wife” and “husband” with scare quotes without doing any of the real labour of untangling these complex gender roles and shifts.)
Much has been written about a complex and controversial kind of male privilege many transwomen, especially those who come out or transition late in life, may have previously enjoyed, and how that affects their subsequent experience of being women. Perhaps what we’re witnessing here is the opposite — Sen inadvertently enjoying male privilege in smoking, drinking and going on motorcycle rides with friends, while pretending to be a man in order to carry out this elaborate ruse.
Or maybe it wasn’t inadvertent, or even a ruse, after all? Police officers say Sen confessed “that she dressed up as a boy since her childhood”. Various news outlets have also reported on how Sen used to ride a motorcycle with male friends, adopt a deep voice and “male behaviours” outside of the home as well, not merely in the presence of the two wives, and apparently convincingly enough to fool a platoon of motorcyclist male friends, for four full years after their first marriage, before being arrested last week.
Which really means that with the information we have now, we should just take Sen’s word that they are male, until they explicitly say otherwise. There’s little reason not to believe that a person who says they are male, and adopts behaviours (in this case, both in the public and private sphere) that they believe are masculine, is in fact male. Isn’t that what self-identification supposed to mean? If Sen says they’re male and presents as male, and has said to the police they’ve dressed like a boy since childhood, how can we not just accept that Sen is, in fact, male?
Is it impossible to imagine that Sen may actually identify as male, and have wanted to marry these women, and still be capable of wedding fraud (due to non-disclosure), domestic violence and dowry harassment? Of course, in such a case, if they had been biologically male they would have been charged under the Prevention of Dowry Act, no questions asked. Is it beyond belief that a self-identified man who is decreed biologically female could be capable of oppressing women?
The point of these rhetorical questions is to pause and remember that violence can also exist in queer relationships. It is not impossible for a person who was born a biological woman to beat or demand dowry from their wives. In fact, when noted trans activist Akkai Padmashali became the first transperson in Karnataka to register her marriage in January, she said that her husband Vasu had proposed to her many times over their eight-year-long relationship, and that she had consistently turned him down fearing domestic violence. Queer relationships are not immune to many of the nasty things we see in heterosexual relationships. Remember when queer activist Harish Iyer’s mum put out a path-breaking and casteist matrimonial ad looking for “Iyer” grooms for her son?
So why is it that we close our minds so fast to the prospect of a gender-bending wedding scamster, whose mother played willing accomplice?
Co-published with Firstpost.