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Bhivani, Haryana, India, 2011 / Mamiya 7, 65mm lens with Fuji 400H film
When I met Veer and Puja, they were living in a shelter in Delhi. They had run away from their village and eloped a few weeks previously. Their story, though, is really about what happened before that.
In the village where they grew up, they come from different castes and, according to tradition, weren’t allowed to marry. But they met – and fell in love – on the bus to college they used to take in a nearby town. Both of their families objected and Puja was eventually pulled out of college by her family, so that she wouldn’t see him anymore. Since they forbade her to go out, she was treated like an outcast in her own home. Veer moved away and got a job with the promise of saving some money and returning to her. He used to smuggle her SIM cards so they could talk on the phone, until her family found it out and confiscated them. Her family objected so strongly, they used to beat her regularly and fought with the men of Veer’s family. Eventually, when one of her brothers claimed he would kill her, she ran away from the house that night, making her way to Delhi by train.
Once there, they went to the shelter and got married the very next day in a simple ceremony. When I met them a few weeks later I was struck by how visibly in love they were, literally bursting with happiness. It’s something very rare to see in India, in any level of society. The elders in their village banned them from ever returning, and Puja hasn’t been in contact with her family ever since.
Besides, Puja was sad that they hadn’t a proper photograph of their marriage; so, when I went to visit them in their new home in Bhivani, I offered to do a wedding portrait for them. Watching them get ready, I was reminded of that feeling that I noticed the first time I met them.
is a London-based photographer who has worked for many years on the East-West cultural divide. Her first book Jeddah Diary is about the lives of young women in Saudi Arabia. Her second book, Stranger, is a journey into Dubai, seen through the eyes of the survivor of a shipwreck. Her work has been exhibited internationally and has been included in multiple institutional collections in the UK, USA, Germany and Switzerland. She also co-founded Fishbar, a publisher of photography books and a space for photography in London. She is a member of Magnum Photos.