New Delhi, India – Though she is dressed aptly as a newlywed, she is different from other brides. Because Kshama Bindu has not married a man, or a woman – she has married herself.
“People look weirdly at me. Like I have committed a crime,” she told Al Jazeera.
Bindu’s “sologamy” – a marriage with self – was conducted last month in an elaborate Indian wedding setup, making her an overnight internet sensation and the first Indian ever to engage in such a practice.
Bindu says she came up with the idea of sologamy only three months before her wedding after watching the Netflix show, Anne With An E, a coming-of-age story of a young orphaned girl who endured abuse as a child.
Taking the line from the show – “I want to be a bride but not a wife” – to another level, she finally tied the knot with herself on June 8.
Since then, from travelling for work to going out for shopping in the western Indian state of Gujarat, the 24-year-old has been earning disapproving looks from strangers.
But she could not be happier. The day of her wedding was the best day of her life, she said, adding, “I was in awe of myself when I looked into the mirror. I had no worries of a normal Indian bride. I felt like I was enough for myself.”
The best part about her marriage to self, she says, is that not much has changed since the wedding.
“I don’t need anybody else’s validation. I don’t have to think about moving to a different city because my partner has to move. I can think just about myself,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that no one but herself can give her greater love.
Bindu is an unusual woman in a traditional Indian society now undergoing rapid changes.
Is this radical self-love, a quest for fame, a deliberate glorification of being alone as a protest against loneliness, or a rejection of patriarchy and societal expectations of women?
Experts say such a declaration of self-love could have been a result of past trauma and failed relationships, and could even point to narcissistic tendencies.
Anusnigdha, a psychoanalytically-oriented researcher at Birmingham University in the United Kingdom, believes extreme trauma at a young age could explain self-love.
For someone who has gone through trauma, acceptance of this kind could be immensely healing, she said.
“In a society where everything is now celebrated on social media, it seems she wanted to make a public declaration that she has finally accepted herself after a journey of healing,” Anusnigdha told Al Jazeera.
I don’t need anybody else’s validation. I don’t have to think about moving to a different city because my partner has to move. I can think just about myself.
Bindu says she did have a tough childhood and was repeatedly sexually abused when she was eight.
“Every time it happened, I would look into the mirror crying and try to motivate and inspire myself. I would have to remind myself that I am strong. Because of this, I grew up much before my time,” she said.
According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data from 2020, sex crimes against children in India went up, with at least 40 percent of the total crimes against children being sexual offences.
Bindu describes herself as a vocal person who always takes a stance against injustice.
“Some people dislike me and want me to take a chill pill, or to take it easy. I am a buzzkill because I call out casual sexism and misogynistic jokes,” she said.
“Rest in Peace, patriarchy and gender rules,” reads the graveyard tattoo on Bindu’s left wrist. “Patriarchy has hit me many times and in different stages of my life.”
Anusnigdha feels that the pressures of an ideal marriage for women in Indian society could also be a driving factor in Bindu’s marriage with herself.
“Most cases of sologamy across the world are women. From a young age, girls are prepared for marriage. It can feel like a lot of pressure. By marrying herself, she has shut people up,” she said.
What is sologamy?
There are multiple references to sologamy in Western popular culture. The idea has featured in several popular Hollywood films and television series, including Sex And The City, Glee and Doctor Who.
Organisations such as Marry Yourself Vancouver in Canada and IMarriedMe.com in the United States offer sologamy packages and assistance.
Bindu recalls not feeling shocked when she first learned about the concept. “I had heard a lot about polygamy and monogamy, but never sologamy,” she told Al Jazeera.
“After watching the show, I googled for the first time whether it was legal to marry oneself in India. When I read about it, it felt normal and even attractive to me. It wasn’t a shock.”
But to her friends and family, it was a bolt out of the blue. Eventually, they all came on board. Her friends even planned a bachelorette party for her, which could not take place in the end because of the barrage of media people outside her gate.
“I was on a sort of house arrest because of the media outside, I couldn’t go out. The neighbours too had objections,” she says.
After the news of her marriage broke, the media flocked outside her house for interviews. Her story got mixed responses, but most stories painted her as a pioneer of sorts.
Most cases of sologamy across the world are women. From a young age, girls are prepared for marriage. It can feel like a lot of pressure.
Anusnigdha feels that Bindu has successfully tapped into the social media potential and styled herself a trendsetter and feminist icon. She says that even the wedding, an act of self-acceptance, was done in a performative way.
But it was not an easy journey. Not only were people mocking her for the decision, there was political backlash too. Just a week before her wedding, the priest who was supposed to solemnise the marriage backed out.
“This is because politics got involved,” says Bindu, referring to the opposition she faced from Sunita Shukla, a politician from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who declared she would not allow the wedding to take place in a Hindu temple.
Because of threats, Bindu was under pressure to keep the marriage discreet. She held the ceremony in her house before the scheduled date. She said the wedding was authentic Gujarati, with garba – a Gujarati dance form – and sweets.
Shukla told the media such a marriage would be against Hinduism.
“I am against the choice of venue, she will not be allowed to marry herself in any temple. Such marriages are against Hinduism. This will reduce the population of Hindus. If anything goes against religion then no law will prevail,” she told India’s ANI news agency.
Bindu says she called at least 25 Hindu priests to perform the wedding rituals but to no avail. Ultimately, technology came to the rescue. The hymns and wedding chants were played on a Bluetooth speaker in Bindu’s house when the wedding finally took place.
Like a proper Indian bride, she got a full bridal mehndi (henna) on her hands and feet a day before the marriage ceremony. On her big day, she invited a makeup artist to get a bridal look.
“After my wedding, I received a lot of questions about how my sex life is going to be. While it is true that I have pledged not to date, remarry or have sexual relations with anyone but myself, I can fulfil my needs fully,” she said.
It can be called different things in different cultures but it has existed for a long time. In tribal cultures, there was always the unwed woman or man.
Anusnigdha says sologamy can be healthy only if treated as one phase of her life.
“She should not shut herself down. The healthy way to do it is to be open, in case she finds someone who can compliment her. There should be no guilt or anxiety in moving on, or her overall growth and development could get affected,” she says.
‘Concept needs better understanding’
Neha Bhatt, a licensed sex and trauma therapist who writes on culture, abuse and relationships, says people have chosen to live with themselves – unmarried – since ancient times.
“It can be called different things in different cultures but it has existed for a long time. In tribal cultures, there was always the unwed woman or man,” she says.
According to her, sologamy is a radical move against patriarchy, a social justice expression, and an announcement of breaking away from the stereotypical expectations put on women.
In that sense, she says, it could be an empowering choice. “Many people can have many different ways of deciding what makes sense to them in terms of intimacy, and what kind of commitment is most nourishing for them,” she says.
Dr Saurabh Mehrotra, a psychiatrist at Medanta Hospital near New Delhi, says it is likely that sologamy will increase in future.
“The trend will only increase with time since a substantial part of the world’s population is either single, unmarried, separated or divorced. And the concept of self-love is also getting more acceptability,” he said.
Advising against dismissing sologamy as a bizarre act, he says, “The concept needs better understanding. As of now, we hardly have any data to understand if there are patterns in the cases.”
The flip side to sologamy, according to Mehrotra, is that it can cut people off from other relationships and even lead to isolation.
Bhatt believes that linking Bindu’s childhood experiences with her decision to marry herself could be dangerous.
“To say that Bindu, as a survivor of sexual abuse, has married herself as a reaction to the abuse would be incorrect because that would mean we are pathologising the person,” she says.
“People don’t choose alternative modes of expressing their identities because something wrong has happened to them.”
At Bindu’s home in Gujarat, meanwhile, the media attention she had been getting for more than a month has finally stopped and the monsoon rains have started pouring.
She says this is the best time to go for her honeymoon – a vacation with herself to celebrate the marriage.