Satyam, a South Indian law student, is faced with the murder of her beloved cousin, who has been poisoned by her brother in an honor killing. The girl was going to marry a Dalit (outcaste) boy and dishonor her family. The police rule it a suicide. Satyam, a timid woman, is faced with compelling evidence of murder from the family servants.
The story weaves back and forth between Satyam’s courage and fear, between action and paralysis, as she tries to pressure the police to re-open the case. Her only allies, her elderly father and the family’s 70 year-old cook, assist her but sometimes wane in their commitment to Satyam’s cause.
On the outside, Satyam seeks justice for her dead cousin. On the inside, she is tortured by her desires for Meena, a college friend, and struggles to accept herself as a lesbian. She also resists her mother’s pressures to accept an arranged marriage. As the story progresses, Satyam becomes more emboldened. The murderous cousin is arrested. Satyam tells Meena that she is gay and breaks off the friendship because of Meena’s hot and cold behavior. She finally tells her mother she refuses to marry.
Satyam’s “coming out” – both as an outspoken human and as a lesbian- grows with the support and mentorship of her human rights law professor. Satyam continues her fight for justice after her cousin gets out of jail by joining a lawsuit against the police for their inaction in a variety of cases involving caste-based violence. She starts to vocally defend gay rights in her school. And the Indian Supreme Court, after almost a decade of court battles, issues its iconic September 2018 ruling decriminalizing homosexuality. Satyam is invited by her mentor to argue the case in the classroom, and she does with vigor.
The story ends with bitter sweetness. Satyam has found her voice, stood up to pressure, and embarks her journey as an advocate for others. However, she may be lonely as an unmarried woman in an extremely homophobic culture. This is left to the reader’s imagination.
Satyam’s Tamil name means Truth. Her heart contains the dilemma of so many women in rapidly changing societies: to be true to oneself and face the consequences, or to remain safe in the shelter of traditional roles.