A young Indian couple, whose intimate post-wedding photoshoot went viral on social media and attracted vicious trolling, have told the BBC they will not take down the pictures as it would mean giving in to their bullies.
The couple, who were married in a small ceremony in September, say they decided to have a post-wedding photoshoot that would be “memorable” to make up for their subdued marriage ceremony.
“Ours was an arranged-cum-love marriage,” Lekshmi told me over the phone from their home in Ernakulam in the southern state of Kerala.
“Our families introduced us last year and then we dated and fell in love,” she said. Hrushi works in a telecom company and Lekshmi has just completed her degree in electrical and electronic engineering.
The couple had planned a lavish wedding in April, but then the pandemic played spoilsport.
In March-end, India implemented a strict country-wide lockdown and banned all gatherings to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Once the process of unlocking began, smaller weddings were also allowed.
Not wanting to wait any longer, Hrushi and Lekshmi got married on 16 September in a temple in her hometown Kollam.
“It was a happy fun wedding, but it was attended by only our families and a few close friends. The police gave us permission for only 50 guests, there were so many restrictions.”
To make up for the modest affair, the couple decided to have a “memorable” photoshoot. In Kerala, and many other parts of India, many couples have been replacing traditional photoshoots with elaborate ones to announce their wedding to the world.
Since Hrushi wanted their post-wedding photoshoot to be “romantic and intimate”, he trawled the internet and came up with the “perfect idea”.
His photographer friend Akhil Karthikeyan, who took the pictures, told me it took just a few hours to execute. They borrowed the comforters from the couple’s hotel room in a lush tea plantation and the grounds of the tea estate provided the backdrop.
“It was great fun. We laughed through it. We were really excited about it. It was a part of our honeymoon, we were just married and we felt free,” says Lekshmi, adding that they had no idea it would create so many problems for them.
Trouble began just a couple of days later when Akhil uploaded the photographs on Facebook.
Trolls described the photos as ugly, vulgar and shameful; some said they were pornographic and fit for a condom commercial; some advised them to get a room.
“We received two days of relentless hate,” says Lekshmi. “People said we were showing nudity, they asked if we were wearing clothes underneath, they said we were doing it for attention and seeking publicity.”
Most of the abuse, Lekshmi says, was directed at her.
“It was really awful for me. They were harassing me much more than him. They were telling me to act in porn films, I was body shamed,” she says.
“The trolls included a lot of women too. They found my earlier photos where I was wearing no makeup and began comparing, saying look how ugly she looks in these photos.”
But a couple of days later, people began calling out the trolls and started expressing support for the Karthiks. Many described the photos as amazing and beautiful and advised the couple to ignore the critical comments.
One woman said she remembered a time when a married couple were shamed for holding hands and advised the Karthiks to ignore the trolls and be happy.
“We didn’t know who the trolls were who were criticising us. We also didn’t know the people who were speaking in our support, but it made us very happy,” says Lekshmi.
It was not just unknown social media trolls, the couple also had to deal with conservative relatives who did not approve of the photoshoot.
“Initially, our parents were shocked too, but we explained to them why we wanted to do it and they understood and have been very supportive. But many of our relatives accused us of aping the West,” Lekshmi says.
“They phoned us to ask what was the need for this? They said, have you forgotten our culture?”
Many asked them to remove the photographs and Lekshmi and Hrushi were dropped from family WhatsApp groups.
But the couple say they are determined that they won’t take down the images.
“If we do, they will take it as admission of our guilt, that we did something wrong,” says Lekshmi. “But we didn’t do anything wrong. We were even wearing clothes underneath.”
Initially, she says, it was “hard for us to deal with all the criticism, but now we’re used to it. We know that’s how society is and we have learnt to live with it”.