On the (Sunday) morning of October 19, 2014, along with many of my colleagues, I reached a largish hotel room in Delhi. The room had been converted into a fully functional back-end support for a live TV show that was to air in less than 3 hours. I heard my name being called and walked fast towards where many of my other team members were standing to be a part of a team huddle. With our eyes largely on the floor, we listened to what out boss had to say. These words, since then have become a part of my larger learnings of working for a TV show such as Satyamev Jayate. “We must welcome the backlash,” said the show’s Co-Director and my boss, Svati Chakravarty. “We need to gently address any of the negative messages that come on social media and our website. Instead of being angry, let’s try and accept because that’s what our episode is all about.”
The episode, titled ‘Accepting Alternative Sexualities’ , was a look into the lives, struggles and experiences of LGBTQ individuals and their families in India. However, our core team was sure about making it a celebration of differences and not focus only on the hardships. A live TV show, that was to follow the episode, would see India interacting with host Aamir Khan through social media, website comments and phone calls.
Almost entirely certain that I would spend the next two hours reading about how “Gays are a sucks” and how “Your show against our culture”, I took my place near my computer and opened multiple Twitter search streams. “What’s the verdict?” asked someone 5 minutes into the episode. “Still slow,” we replied. For a few seconds after that, I looked around to see what other teams were doing. Some were busy answering phone calls; some were running between teams and giving updates. When my eyes came back to my screen, I froze for a second. The tweets were pouring in at such speed that we could just not keep up. I guess this is what people mean when they say that “Twitter has exploded”.
A viewer tweeted that her grandmother had just given a missed call to voice her support. A mother said she would apologise to her gay son. A young man said he would renew his friendship with his two gay friends. Hundreds of people said they were inspired by the testimonies on our show. I was stunned. Within half an hour, our episode hashtag, #FreedomforLGBT, was trending no. 1 in India and in the world. In a country with a law such as Section 377, that discriminates against the LGBTQ community, this was proof that if not all, hundreds across the country were ready to see a change.
Needless to say, on that day and in the following months, we received various strongly worded negative messages as well. “Mentally retarded”, “Against nature”, “Against God”, “Unscientific” and so on—this was the pulse of many of the messages that we received. A legal notice was issued to host Aamir Khan for “promoting homosexuality”. Suresh Kumar Koushal, who challenged the Delhi High Court judgement against Section 377, called homosexuality a disease on national TV and urged Mr Khan to “provide a neutral point of view and not support homosexuals”.
On the one hand, India had surprised us by opening their minds and hearts and on the other, we could see the dire need of continuing this conversation on acceptance. This year, we started going through almost all the messages we had received across various episodes. We compiled a booklet of selected messages that came in after our episode on TB (Read: TB – The Ticking Time Bomb) and then we worked on a booklet on our episode on LGBTQ rights. The messages were diverse—from voices within the LGBTQ to viewers talking about mindset change and acceptance, the booklet for most part, gave us hope. For me, it was definitely a sad realisation that acceptance is probably an underrated quality—a skill even, for many, that needs to be practised to be mastered.
A concerned viewer’s advice was to not be like the “foolish frog in the well who died thinking that his well was his only universe”. He continued to say that “If you think you are ‘gay’, first understand that you are not normal.” “Lesbians and gays do what they do for the sake of fun,” said another. “Please spare me”, “I don’t understand why gays and lesbians need to come out in public”, “…curse for future” and “LGBT is a big sin” were other sentiments. The messages even became absurd with a doctor stating that liking or disliking a particular sex is related to “foreign energy attachments to the body”. An angry viewer asked us if we were biologists and a more polite one suggested that since gay marriage cannot result in natural reproduction, it should not be termed as marriage but can be called “longterm friendship”.
The first time I read these, I was shaken. The second time, slightly taken aback, and the third time, I was slightly amused. It Is wondrous to see how people around us think. As we neared closer to the launch of this booklet, I realised that while many of these messages are bizarre and speak of ignorance and unwillingness to change, they are a reflection of who we are as a society. For every mother apologising to her gay son, there are educated members of the youth calling homosexuality a sin. For every understanding grandparent, there is a member in the same family who strongly believes that homosexuality is wrong because it negatively affects “the circle of life”. For every Delhi High Court judgement that upholds the dignity and rights of a human being as a human being, there is a Supreme Court judgement that re-instates a law that calls the LGBTQ community a “miniscule minority” and re-instates a law that prevents consenting adults to show their love for each other.
To stem the insensitivity against LGBTQ we must recognise, firstly, that the question at hand is comprehensive. Hasty conclusions can only qualify as noise. Satyamev Jayate, the booklet and even this piece stand to sensitise us; they invite us to think reasonably and together—as individuals and as society.
In sober conviction sparks the vestige of an answer, the claps of change.
View and download Satyamev Jayate’s booklet: Snapshots of LGBT Lives in India
Latest posts by Lipi Mehta (see all)
- Straight Talk on Queer Issues – Why Acceptance is the Only Answer - September 4, 2015