This post tells the story of my secret marriage with Kishan. It’s a good idea to read about our secret relationship before reading this post.
Our secret marriage: Getting information
We decided to get married in early 2011. We hoped we could make it for April, but somehow it didn’t work out, because getting married in India is not a piece of cake, to say the least. Getting information about bureaucratic procedures isn’t easy here, and it was even trickier because we wanted a secret marriage. Obviously we didn’t want it to happen in Khajuraho. We thought about doing it in Varanasi, and I was dreaming of a beautiful ceremony near the Ganges with some of my India-loving friends, a few members of my French family, and my violin teacher (Guruji, as we call our teachers or gurus in India) as a witness. I asked Guruji if he wanted to be my witness, but he told me it might be difficult because he tours a lot. He gave me the contact details of a lawyer he knew. Kishan and I went to see him a few times, as he assured us that we could get married in Varanasi. He asked us for a series of documents, but once we handed our complete file to him he stopped answering our phone calls! Another friend later recommended another lawyer to us; that one told us that it was actually impossible to get married in Varanasi, for the simple reason that neither of us was originally from Varanasi. I was living there at the time but I was a French citizen on a student visa, so it was complicated. I gave up the hopes to get married in the City of Light…
In Khajuraho, a friend of Kishan’s who was married to a Belgium woman told us that it was possible to pay a lawyer in Delhi quite a big sum of money and she would arrange everything for us. Kishan liked the idea of getting married in Delhi, because lawyers from the capital know better what they were doing, and so our papers would more likely be official! His friend gave us the lawyer’s phone number and we contacted her. I can’t remember how Kishan managed to hide the fact that we wanted to do a secret marriage while asking his friend for advice.
Our secret marriage: Gathering documents
It took us about six months to obtain all the necessary documents. Luckily Kishan already had a passport when I met him! He had to apply for his birth certificate though, because he didn’t have one. This took him a lot of effort because the clerks just wouldn’t do their work and Kishan didn’t want to give them any baksheesh. In the end he resorted to slapping an officer (I shall NOT recommend slapping clerks in my bureaucracy tips!) and the man finally did his work! Overall it took an entire month for Kishan to get his birth certificate. In order for it to be accepted by French law we had to get it attested by the Home Department in Bhopal (the capital of his birth state of Madhya Pradesh). We lied to his family saying that we were going to Delhi because I had problems renewing my student visa, and we went to Bhopal. I had to write an application and hand in all the documents about my studies and residency in Varanasi, and the Home Department also wanted an English translation of the list of required documents we had from the French embassy, to make sure that we really needed Kishan’s birth certificate to be attested. I phoned the French embassy; they told me they were not able to issue a translation and no-one had ever requested this! The officer was obviously just trying to get some money from us… I cried in the office (I am very good at crying in offices!), as it felt to me like they would never agree to stamp Kishan’s birth certificate! After four stressful days Kishan did give a baksheesh and we got what we wanted, but the officer still wanted the translated instructions the next day. We left with our stamped document and obviously never bothered with the translation afterwards…
I also had to get our wedding project published at the French embassy (publication des bans) in order for me to get a non-objection certificate. This took another trip to the capital and about five weeks before we got the document, but as with all the administrative procedures at the French embassy, it was pretty straightforward!
Special marriage or temple marriage?
If we were going to marry secretly, I absolutely didn’t want to do it in a temple, because I knew temple marriage meant everything to Kishan’s family. It was not a problem for him to get married secretly because he knew his family well and he knew how to handle them – to protect their feelings, in particular his mother’s. I was reluctant for a long time because I was really scared about hurting them. I only wanted to do a civil wedding, because most Indians don’t actually have any legal records of their marriage in rural areas. For me, this meant that the family cared only for the temple marriage, not the legal one, so it was okay to do all the paper work ‘behind their backs’. We had to go through paper work alone at some point anyway, regardless of whether or not our wedding was going to be a secret. There were two ways to proceed, however. The first was to start with a court marriage (also called special marriage), and the second was to first get married in a temple and then bring the temple marriage certificate to the marriage register office and record it legally. The second option, we were told, was a lot easier and quicker than the first. It bothered me at first, but when I found out that Hindus can marry as many time as they want with the same person, I agreed to go for the easier option. We could have another religious ceremony with the family at a later date and it would be fine.
Our secret marriage
In November 2011, when we went to Delhi to present our file to the advocate, we thought we would only stay for a couple of days and apply for marriage. From our understanding, we still had to wait one or two months before we could actually get married. When we saw the advocate the following day, however, she told us that our file was complete and that we could get married ‘tomorrow’ if we wanted! We couldn’t believe our ears! We were so happy but a bit shocked! And we got married two days later!!! The religious ceremony lasted about thirty minutes, but the paperwork that followed kept us in Delhi for another ten days. We got married in a temple on our own. I didn’t have any special clothes, not even my camera so we had to rent a argentic camera from the temple for 300 rupees! A guy from the temple took really badly framed photos which reminded me of the kind of pictures I used to take on school trips when I was a teenager! In order for the marriage to be accepted in French law, I finally accepted to convert to Hinduism, which doesn’t really mean anything to me anyway – religion isn’t more than a label to me; I am and will always remain ‘just me’.
The ten days’ worth of paperwork were quite intense, but the advocate was really good and she organised our secret marriage so well that we we would probably have taken much longer to figure out by ourselves. Even though she was quite expensive, we probably saved a lot on baksheesh as well. She drafted our fake flat lease to ‘prove’ that Kishan had been living in Delhi for three months, because you have to be a Delhi resident for at least three months to be able to get married in Delhi! I was so paranoid that the Marriage Register Office and the French embassy would find out the truth that we made up a story in case they would ask us for details (of course they didn’t) and I tried to learn our fake address by heart, forgetting some bits every time. Three days after the temple marriage we went to the Marriage Register to file our marriage in Indian law. The advocate rented our witness for 500 rupees – a lovely woman who came with her son!!! A day before my violin teacher had just come back from a two-month tour in Mexico, so although he was not officially our witness, he was there and it was all that mattered! He told me God had sent him; It was a miracle. We had not planned the date of our marriage, and he had still managed to come! I was in heaven!
After the court marriage we had to translate our marriage certificate from English to French. Now, if it was fine for Indian law that I translated my non-objection certificate from French to English myself using the advocate’s computer in her office (!!!) and to get it approved and certified without actual check, France only accepted an accredited translation done by the Alliance Française, obviously! By the way, while I was typing in the lawyer’s office, her husband, who was also an advocate working in the office next door, asked me why on earth I had decided to marry an Indian in India. We spoke in hindi, and I explained to him why I liked his country and why I didn’t think everything was perfect in Europe. We also had to apostille both our marriage certificate and Kishan’s birth certificate for them to be accepted by the French authorities, but the advocate arranged for this to be done so we didn’t have to worry about it.
After our marriage certificate was apostilled, we applied for its transcription into French law. This was our final task, after which we could finally leave Delhi. Ten days later I was notified by the French embassy that our Livret de Famille (family book) was ready. I was in heaven! We were married in the eyes of France now, which meant victory for me: Kishan was finally going to be granted a visa to visit my home country and meet my family!
Read more: A marriage ceremony after all : Part 1