When Major Vikas Kumar, 34, from the Indian Army’s Corps of Signals, and Arnila Ranamale Gunaratne, 29, a Sri Lankan doctoral student, first met in an upmarket Bangalore shopping mall in March 2011, they never thought that his Army credentials and her foreign nationality would prove to be a such a big hurdle in their relationship.
Since then, their wedding date has been postponed twice. First they were to get married in December 2011. Then in March 2012. Now, they are hoping that their love affair, which has transcended national identities, long distances and legal battles with the Indian Army, will end in wedlock next month.
But they are keeping their fingers crossed. Following three separate orders from the courts in the last two years, the latest on November 21, 2012, the Army has agreed to release Kumar. But it has asked him to repay the cost of his one-year training at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) and the three-year B Tech course he underwent at the Mhow military college.
While Kumar has agreed to pay the cost of training at IMA, he believes his five-year service liability for the engineering course ended in July 2012. They couple say they won’t be able to pay for the B Tech course, which they estimate to be in the range of Rs 16 lakh.
“I did not foresee any of this happening at all. It has been difficult. We thought may be the issues would get resolved in six months, and we would be married by the end of 2011,’’ says Gunaratne.
There is also an Army court of inquiry proceeding pending against Kumar for establishing contact with a foreign national without permission. According to a 2004 Army order, any Army personnel wanting to marry a foreigner (except Bhutanese nationals) must obtain government sanction and the spouse must become an Indian citizen.
Gunaratne, born and raised in Colombo and a student in India since finishing school, loved Bangalore but treasured her island identity too. “I have absolutely nothing against being an Indian national. I have been in India for a long time. I want to be a Sri Lankan national for my own personal reasons,’’ she says.
“Everyone thinks that with the high court’s order, the path is clear for us to get married. We do not have the money to pay the Army or the appetite for more legal battles if it sticks to its demand for compensation for the engineering programme as well. No officer who has served the Army for 12 years would have saved that kind of money. So we are stuck again,’’ says Gunaratne.
“It is a huge sum for us... by our calculation we cannot afford it,’’ she says. Kumar has now written to Army Headquarters on this matter, and the couple are awaiting official communication on the final compensation amount to be paid for his discharge before deciding on their next course of action.
“Our troubles have made us closer and stronger. It is not a normal sort of relationship anymore — I think we are beyond that. But in terms of marriage, we are still at square one,’’ says Gunaratne, who has suffered panic attacks and learned the intricacies of marriage and citizenship laws with Kumar in the last two years.
So far it has been Kumar’s single-minded resolve to marry Gunaratne, at any cost, and the support of their families, that helped the couple ride the storm.
“We are not 20 years old, and we had made up our minds during our initial time together that we want to take this relationship forward,’’ says Gunaratne. “Maybe if it had been an arranged marriage, we would have said let us look for someone else... We have had a largely long-distance relationship. There has been a lot of Skyping and phone conversations.”
She says she tried to protect her businessman father and mother in Colombo from the pressures of her relationship. “I have tried to keep things to a sort of minimum with my family. They have been constantly calling. You can’t really expect them to understand the situation. The fact that I am alone here makes it difficult. But his family has been a big source of support. We would have given up long ago if it was not for their support,’’ says Gunaratne, who is pursuing a doctorate in English Literature.
“We are frankly quite tired of going to the courts. We also don’t have that kind of patience or finances. It is sort of like a checkmate situation. The future is very ambiguous. Going to the courts if we can’t pay the Army will take us at least another one-and-a-half to two years,’’ she says.
During the course of the cases, Kumar has studied marriage and citizenship laws from across the world and filed RTIs for information on other officers who have married foreign nationals.
Stating that Kumar has thought at length about his actions and reasoned out the Army’s hostile reaction towards his legal efforts to obtain a discharge from the force, she says: “He is quite clear that his actions have been anti-establishment. He also knows that going to the courts over fundamental rights issues is frowned upon.” (Indian Express)