The Day After the Judgement

So now that we have one group of criminals less to deal with, I have a proposal: Criminalize English TV news channels.

'Debate,' the Times Now way
‘Debate,’ the Times Now way

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.

24 thoughts on “The Day After the Judgement”

  1. Dear Nivedita,

    I heartily endorse your proposition. I watched the TV channels deal with the landmark Delhi High Court Judgement against the ridiculous provisions of section 377 aghast. Here, they were, literally manufacturing an opposition to equal rights for all citizens on the airwaves, on prime time. I think Arnab Goswami and his cohorts (he, alas, is not alone. the Times of India already did its job by featuring the views of some Maulana Abdul Madrasi from Deoband on the subject, and I am sure that there are other media outlets that are following suit) needs to be intellectually horsewhipped, and shamed in public for this kind of behaviour.

    If tomorrow, like in the Shah Bano case, this government, or any government for that matter, backtracks on Gay Rights, not only will it be a severely retrograde step for civil rights in general, additionally, the Hindutva hard core will cry ‘minority appeasement’ yet again, (notwithstanding, as you say, that they have exactly the same positions on rights for queer folk, as the Maulanas, Imams and Reverends that the TV channels would like to conjure like rabbits out of their hats). And once again, this might precipitate the Hindutva backlash (out of a non-issue, what business does the Imam of the Jama Masjid have, or, that the capitulation on the Shah Bano case provoked. If this happens (and I hope it does not happen), then, it will be the likes of Arnab Goswami, who will bear the responsibility for taking us back into the darkness from which we were just beginning to emerge.

  2. What I also find annoying about these news channels is that often teh self assigned religious representatives are shown as an antithesis to homosexual rights. As a Muslim, I have had the fortune to read progressive interpretations of the Quran that is clearly against rape, not homosexuality as pointed out by scholars like Imam Daaiyee and Amina Wadud. Similarly, openly gay bishops draw their basis from the message of love as preached by Jesus. Radical rabbis are not unheard of in the Jewish community and several temples have homoerotic sculptures and thems engraved on them.

    Often we end up associating only one aspect of a person’si dentity to be his/her “essential” persona. T.V channels in particular seem to fail to understand the fluidity of identity under different circumstances and confine it to strict binaries. That is indeed tragic according to me, because we are narrowing down the scope and limitless potential of ourselves in our bodies as well as in abstract.

  3. They are gimmicking this whole gay rights business for cheap publicity. This can be confirmed by the amount of coverage on gays & rights (separating these topics into two) that was seen in the 3 July edition of Times of India. The reports were at least in 4 pages and two of them only contained related reports. If someone went through the entire columns he would come out fairly educated on the issue/s.

  4. CPM is not prevaricating about homosexuality? What about this:

    Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member M.K. Pandhe said: “Generally we don’t support homosexuality but I cannot say further on the issue because our party has not discussed the matter.”

    [emphasis mine>

  5. The Times of India not only devoted half the newspaper space to the issue, but even sprinkled doses of celebrity gays. Not just that, they probably thought they were being very witty when they championed the ‘economic reforms’, using the metaphor of ‘coming out’. i guess the neo-liberal thieves are coming out after the ‘oppressive’ and ‘outdated’ left is out of the way. How pathetic.

  6. Nivedita,

    That was a great piece. I couldn’t agree with you more. But what particularly struck me were some of the (all pro-gay rights) commentators on this article.

    Check out “The Rational Fool’s” irrational smart-ass articles. It clearly brings out the fact that not all homophobes are communal just as not all communal elements are anti-gay. The former’s pieces against liberty and freedom of Muslims in his/her blog seriously makes one wonder the different shades and dangers of hyper-secularism. S/He very intellectually engages in the articles to stereotype and uniformise the community.

    Interestingly, that is what homosexuals like myself are fighting against too – negative stereotyping and reducing the gay community to a monolithic community…but this person has shifted his ideologies for particular groups to the extent of isolating them.

    Just as religious minorities in India need to show solidarity with groups falling victims under right wing ideologues, the same applies to sexual minorities in their stance towards Christians/Dalits/Muslims et al.

  7. Gitanjali, you’re absolutely right in highlighting a particular strand in LGBT politics that is entirely compatible with a Hindu right-wing worldview. This position uses the fact that ancient Hindu texts and practices reveal a multiplicity of forms of sexuality and intimate relations, to argue or implicitly suggest that all this came to an end with “Muslim” invasions, and then with British (“Christian”) rule. Such a view is highly critical of the homophobic mainstream of the Hindu right, and basically invokes what it sees as the true Hindu culture against both homophobic hindutvavaad and the supposedly homophobic Islam and Christianity. You will find this in Ashok Row Kavi and in Giti Thadani, for example. I should clarify that this is not a “communal” position in any simple sense, but more of a glorification of “Hindu” as opposed to “Muslim/Christian” world-view. It is very troubling, of course, because both tendencies (homophobic and counter-heteronormative) are to be found in all cultures.
    The broader question that your comment raises is that of what happens to the queer movement once Section 377 ceases to be a binding factor. Exactly what we have to come to recognize for the women’s movement of course – that “feminism” or “queer politics” can be Hindu right-wing, elitist and consumerist, upper-caste, and so on. When “women” or “LGBTI” become politicized, there is no guarantee that they will become politicized in a way that is necessarily democratic or inclusive.
    So just as with something called “feminism”, the struggle for the soul of of “queer politics” is a continuing one.

  8. Nivedita,

    Smart woman you are! And I’m sure not single :(

    Ashok Kavi Row is an idiot. You rightly pointed out the different strands within queer and feminist movements. That is what I fear when I see the media homogenising the gay community – hijras for instance, have hardly found any mention in debates and bright newspaper clippings. Most of the “coming out” narratives that are being written by “liberal” journalists are about middle and upper class men as well as some women.

    A friend told me to check out this blog and I must say, its impressive. Keep up the good work guys! And by that I don’ mean to exclude women :P

  9. Gitanjali,
    Don’t confuse ideas with people. That I don’t have respect for Islam [for that matter any religion] doesn’t carry to those who mistakenly believe in the ideas and pronouncements therein. Btw, where is the need to uniformise/homogenize a community [Muslim/Gay] :)

    Nivedita,
    Why is pointing out historical differences in the attitudes and norms of a society “troubling”? “[S]upposedly homophobic Islam and Christianity”? Can you substantiate the qualifier?

  10. After Gitanjali raised this issue of homophobic religious traditions versus communalized LGBT politics, I have been looking out for some quick links on counter-heteronormative tendencies in different religions. Here’s one on Hinduism and one on Islam.
    (“Quick” links because those who who are interested in seriously following up this idea will find a huge body of scholarship from all over the world, and can start with Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai ed. Same Sex Love in India).

  11. oh Hell. How can the Hindoos ever have such enlightened views on Homosexuality. How can these dark forces be enlightened at all. That too score points over the luminous egalatarian religions of Islam and Christianity. Now these backward Hindoos are quoting from scriptures on Brihannala, ardhanareeshwara and homerotic sculptures. We did find opposition from a single Sighal from RSS but I guess he is of no repute. Surely this communal agenda of the Hindus in supporting Gay rights has severely dented the credibility of us liberals from the great religions of Islam, christianity and communism. The hindoos are trying to derail our burden of civilizing the pagan heathens and bring them to a uniform culture of mono socialism. This communal agenda cannot be tolerated. We should now go ahead and prove with our refined brains and dailectical logic that RSS has welcomed the judgement only because Islamic clerics and the padrees have opposed it.

  12. Oh Sharia sweetie, that’s a sexy name, but I prefer your real one – Frothing-at-mouth-Hindutvavaadi. Since you care enough to have submitted this comment on both posts on the judgement, I feel compelled to publish it and respond. You’re incredibly subtle, but I think I get it. Others here have tried this tactic already – Hindus are to be judged by the best aspects of our tradition, Muslims and Christians by the worst aspects of theirs. (By the way, R. Fool – I said “supposedly” homophobic Islam and Christianity because all religions have both tendencies, as I explained in my comment. So dont just instrumentally use the work done by scholars for years, digging up queer-friendly traditions in Hinduism, while remaining blind to similar work on other religions.)
    But that seems to be your tactic too, Sharia dear – ignore VHP and BP Singhal who are actually going to appeal the judgement in the Supreme Court, ignore all the other F-a-t-m Hindutvavaadis who attacked Fire, and who routinely claim homosexuality is not in “our tradition”, and rejoice at every homophobic utterance of Christian and Muslim clergy.
    (But do tell, where are the RSS folk who have “welcomed the judgement”? We’d like to invite them to a few celebratory parties.)
    Well, it looks like the cunning plan of us Communist-Muslim-Christians has succeeded – we have produced a hell in which good Hindus now claim proudly that we were always homosexual, unlike these foreign and retrogressive minorities! Kalyug indeed.

  13. Oh yes, it’s been unbearable to watch English news channels debating homosexuality, and queer activists/supporters sitting around looking bemused/outraged. But I’d like to add that there have been a few rays of light, though it’s not strictly related to the topic of the post.

    Sreenivasan Jain was interviewing Manish Tiwary and Jai Narayan Vyas and trying to goad them into “taking a stand” on the verdict, and when Vyas started reading out stats on the AIDS-afflicted in the gay community, Jain cut him off outright, saying “nowhere in the world has there been any correlation between increasing AIDS and decriminalising homosexuality, please get your facts right”
    He went on to berate both Tiwary and Vyas by saying that he “expected better support for a pathbreaking judgement from thinking, fairly progressive and articulate individuals”, though really what grounds he had for such expectations, I wonder. But to see an anchor come out this strongly in support of the verdict and face down the bullshit so firmly, restored a little bit of my faith.

  14. Nivedita:

    A friendly suggestion: please visit your opthamologist, before attempting to correct other people’s vision. Selective reading is quite a common eye illness these days, I hear.

    Thank you for your hospitality.

  15. Sharia manifesto,
    In our best Hindu tradition you have adopted a Shikhandi like name behind which you hide and attack as if you were a Muslim. This truly belongs to the tradition of what we aestheticians call the lakshana or transferred and indirect meaning. You have shown yourself to be truly heir to our great tradition. Do keep the flag flying high.
    We also have another side to our philosophical tradition that you have very ably articulated in your comment here. We are ‘this’ and we are ‘that’ at the same time, we are homophobic and homosexual, at once. And when we are caught on the wrong foot, we show our other foot.
    However, in the best tradition of Hindu scholarship, you should not open your mouth without doing proper research and putting in enough thought. This style of shooting your mouth off is a deformity introduced by those who claim to represent and define Hinduism in their own political way. Just for your information, Murli Manohar Joshi, esteemed leader of the BJP and RSS has said that diluting or scrapping art 377 will lead to anarchy and that High Courts cannot decide on everything. And our beloved leader Baba Ramdev has said that he will lead mass protests if homosexuality was legalised ‘ and gay sex is against our Vedic culture.’ And our very favourite VHP spokesman has said: “It [homosexuality] is against the culture and family system in India. It will result in the spread of a number of diseases.”
    All this is on record. So you should try and espouse mauna vrata in such difficult times when our own betray us.

  16. I said “supposedly” homophobic Islam and Christianity because all religions have both tendencies, as I explained in my comment…

    Yes, but perhaps it’s also useful to remember this in other contexts too. On the status of women, about the only “Hindu” voice we hear is that of Manu. Yet, in his translation of the Dharmasutras, Patrick Olivelle (of Sri Lankan origin – and clearly not Hindu – for those who don’t know about him) says, after noting the number of different ways in which Apastamba’s attitude towards women was “liberal”:

    The expert tradition of Dharma during the centuries immediately preceding the common era appears to have been vibrant and dynamic as shown by the numerous contradictory opinions recorded in the extant Dharmasutras. Such diversity of opinion belies the common assumption that ancient India was uniform and stifling under an orthodoxy imposed by Brahmins. If even the experts recorded in these normative texts disagree so vehemently, the reality on the ground must have been even more chaotic and exhilarating.

    To avoid any misunderstanding, let me emphasize that it is not my claim that women were well-off in ancient India. I am only noting that the reality of our past is more complex than what many of us think – this applies whether we are talking of our “Hindu,” “Muslim” or whatever past.

    For those interested Google offers a preview of the book titled The Dharmasutras. The excerpt I’ve reproduced above is on page xliii.

  17. Dear Fool,

    I’m not the one suggesting that we need a war against Islam and not simply terrorism. If that is not your idea of stereotyping and hate, than I guess your supposed rationality is definitely beyond my comprehension.

    Sigh. Your selective readings don’t get to me either darling.

    Secondly, funny that you make such disgusting and distasteful remarks on Kafila, and not upload my comments on your own esteemed blog, where you ironically harp about democracy and hatred in the same breath.

  18. Sunalini, thanks. Don’t miss this anyone, it’s brilliant beyond your wildest imaginings!

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