So now that we have one group of criminals less to deal with, I have a proposal: Criminalize English TV news channels.
Watching Times Now yesterday after the Delhi High Court ruling on Section 377, I was overcome by a growing sense of bewilderment. I could hear Dominic Emmanuel (Director of the Delhi Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church) and Kamal Farooqui (Chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission), saying quite cearly and more than once, to my surprise, that they welcome the decriminalization of homosexuality, that homosexuals should not be treated as if they were criminals. Okay, correct that – I could barely hear these statements over the insistent, aggressive and disruptive interruptions of the anchor Arnab Goswami, who had obviously pre-set this “discussion” rigidly as a face-off between Reactionary Clerics/Minorities and Gay Rights Activists, while he himself was super hero, Anchorman. So each time they said “we welcome” etc., Anchorman would swoop in, bellowing, “So are you saying that they dont have rights, Sir, are you saying they should not have rights. Over to Anjali Gopalan (Naz) – Anjali, they say homosexuals should not have rights, what do you say?”
Anjali would exhaustedly respond to Arnab’s question as if these two had not spoken at all, and so the maddening thing went on, the two “representatives of minorities” being goaded and goaded until they came right down to expressing all the prejudices that all of mainstream society holds, Anjali trying to respond sensibly, and Arnab shouting everybody else down. Finally, the Naz counsel Tripti Tandon after several efforts managed to climb back into this chaotic scenario to say that she took positively the statements of Farooqui and Emmanuel welcoming decriminalization, as they marked a step forward in the debate. It was only at that point that I realised I had not been hallucinating, that the two had indeed been expressing views more complicated than simple homophobia.
When I stopped hyperventilating with rage and switched to the Hindi channel CNEB anchored by Rahul Dev, it was the proverbial zameen-aasman ka fark. Noise decibels were low, Rahul Dev was courteous, heard people out, seemed to modify his initial formulations on the basis of what others said…
Of course, it is another matter that all news channels including CNEB seemed to have dutifully followed Moily’s mysterious statement that the government would take into account the views of the Church before taking a decision on 377. Why the Church? Why were minority community spokesmen (and men they were), produced on every news channel to express views far more reactionary than those of Emmanuel or Farooqui? Why on earth in a secular democracy, should religious leaders’ views be uniquely privileged on this issue? And if they must be aired, why not also have a few frothing-at-the-mouth hindutvavaadis? After all, the main party in the case, opposing decriminalizing of Section 377, is VHP’s BP Singhal.
So – criminalize NDTV, Times Now and IBN-CNN. The charges?
* They have relentlessly and single-mindedly dumbed down public debate to the level of British tabloids.
* Their anchors are pretty much illiterate – I want documented proof of how many words they read per year (that are not in their scripts or rolling off on their prompters).
* The anchors, brash and loud in their ignorance, take over every discussion, speaking on an average three times as much as every invited panelist, supposedly an expert in his or her field.
* Each discussion is pre-formatted to a “Big Fight” scenario – invited speakers are clearly told what the “line” is they are to follow. (For instance, Sanjay Shrivastava, asked to speak on one of these channels on the attacks on Indians in Australia, was told – “We are inviting the Australian High Commissioner. We want you to attack him.” Sanjay refused to go for that discussion.) If during the discussion the black-and-white crudity of the Fight is disturbed, the anchor’s role is to bulldoze all possibilities of complexity away. Arnab as Anchorman is a perfect case in point.
There was a possibility of taking the discussion with Emmanuel and Farooqui towards discussing what they meant by welcoming decriminalization while opposing legalization of homosexuality, for example. The latter, as Emmanuel rightly points out in his article in Indian Express, raises fundamental questions about the nature of the “natural family”. As queer activists, we want those questions to be raised – we want a debate to begin on the sacrosanct and mythical Indian Family. We want too, an informed discussion on the “gay gene” theory of homosexuality. (Anchorman at one point derisively and confidently interrupted one of the Reactionary Clerics with “Dont you know, it’s genetic?”) While we see the strategic value of this argument – (if it is genetic, then nobody who is homosexual can help it, or God made us this way, and it also means that homosexuality cannot spread, you are either born one or you are not) – we also want to introduce the more fundamental questions about how “natural” or genetic heterosexuality is. We want a public debate on the assumed naturalness of maleness and femaleness, on the assumed naturalness and desirability of the patriarchal heterosexual family unit.
But no, we are condemned to act forever, on TV channels, as dull foils to illuminate by contrast, the shiny progressiveness of Anchorman and Anchorwoman.
It is precisely a decade of intense debate and discussion between the left parties, the women’s movement and queer movement, that has resulted in the profound shift in the homophobic attitudes of both of the former till as late as the late-1990s. Today, if the CPM is the only political party to welcome the High Court decision without any prevarication, we must count it as a victory for processes of democratic dialogue and transformation.
And finally, a word to all the ulemas and priests and archbishops and other “religious leaders” who are up in righteous rage against “sexual anarchy” and the abrogation of God’s word. You might do well to remember that respect for difference and diversity is what keeps a secular democracy healthy – and that means diversity of all kinds. You might like to check out what the thousands and thousands celebrating the judgement today feel about Hindutvavaadi attacks on minorities, you might like to check out how many of us have marched in defence of secular freedoms, worked with victims of communal violence, extended our legal expertise to defend those illegally arrested under anti-terrorism laws.
Do not make the mistake of so grievously mis-recognizing your allies in a modern democracy.