When the Supreme Court scrapped Section 377 and decriminalised homosexuality, many believed that members of the queer community will finally be given the dignity that was long due. Yes, activists, allies knew that laws are not enough to change social perceptions but one can begin there. For those who believe in gender justice, society seemed a little less unequal.
But the ordeal was far from over. Society continues to be biased towards people and couples who don’t fit in the set gender roles. The latest is a case from Dhubri’s Balajan where two women decided to stay together. A local Assamese news channel covered the entire episode in the most homophobic way possible.
With the sole aim to sensationalise the issue, the TV channel chalked out a colourful story of how the mother of two ‘eloped’ with another girl and married her. She had a relationship with the girl for the last two years. The channel made it sound as if the woman was cheating on her husband and started passing moral judgements on her. But the local channel didn’t bother to mention that the woman was separated from her husband and the two women signed an affidavit to live together.
The channel didn’t bother to keep the identity of the women secret. While when talking on mike, the women’s backs were turned to the camera, their faces, names were clearly shown. One wonders whether they were even told that they can choose to keep their identity a secret. This becomes important because after the news was broadcast, these women had to leave their home to escape constant hounding! If they face hostility, the news channel will not take responsibility.
This news should make us wonder that the struggle for equal rights for sexual minorities is long and arduous. Even after Supreme Court’s judgement, such an incident invoked such strong hostile and humiliating response. While the news channel ran the headline about the ‘love story of two heroines’, it didn’t bother to think even once about the dignity of these women.
Assamese local channels are known for their cheap tactics but in this case they have impinged upon the privacy of two adults. Neither live-in relationships nor same-sex relationships are crimes. In such a case, the news channel should have shown some semblance of sensitivity while covering it.
The news coverage was followed by lewd remarks on social media. While the channel empathised with the father of one of the women who was crying and even went to the police, the channel must have conveniently overlooked the fact that many individuals suffer because they enter relationships due to parental pressure.
News channels must learn to respect privacy and individual liberty. While the women have legal respite, the local people are not taking kindly to the issue. The media coverage has worsened it and the people are already looking at the couple as a blot to their community. They may be ostracised or boycotted.
Queer movement and the #MeToo movement have often been accused of being urban centric. It is at times like this that activists must stand by people who are at the lower rungs of the society and their social persecution is accentuated by their socio-economic location. News channels must also be reminded that their stories are about someone’s lives. These women need to be given access to counselling and even legal support if required. Otherwise the Supreme Court’s order will not have much impact on ground level.