Mid-Day rejects a gay matrimonial ad: What explains its U-Turn on LGBT rights?

The paper, it seems, thinks it was a mistake to publish Harish Iyer’s ad.

ByVikram Johri
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Mid-Day rejects a gay matrimonial ad: What explains its U-Turn on LGBT rights?
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A gay friend’s sister called Mid-Day to place a matrimonial advertisement for him. This had been on her mind since Harish Iyer’s mother did the same earlier this year. The idea was to find a partner for my friend who has been on gay websites for over 10 years now but has found no one for a long-term relationship.

My friend was not enthusiastic about the idea at first. He did not see how an ad for him could be placed in a matrimonial column when gay marriage is not a legal reality in India. His sister, however, felt that placing an ad would enable him to meet people like him from the community, those who were looking to settle down. “It does not matter whether or not your bond has legal validity,” she told her brother, “you will at least have someone to live with and care for.”

My friend was still unsure. He wants to be with someone with whom he can raise a family. He wants to have kids, and that is impossible in India. His efforts to move out have come to naught. He has spent half his lifetime facing rejections on PlanetRomeo and Grindr, from men who are interested in little more than sex, and so in the end he okayed his sister’s proposal.

His sister made an ad for him and posted it to the matrimonial page on Mid-Day’s website. She paid a fee of Rs 1,800 for the same. The order went through but within an hour the money was refunded into her account. She called the matrimonial division at Mid-Day and was told that the newspaper would not run a gay matrimonial.

She raised the issue of Harish’s ad, and the person on the other side said they regret running that ad, since it had brought them a lot of uncalled-for attention. When my friend’s sister said that was hardly the case, that in fact many people had supported Mid-Day for running the ad, the person had little to say. My friend’s sister lost her cool and the conversation swiftly ended.

I wonder what made Mid-Day change its stance. Sachin Kalbag, the editor of the paper at the time Harrish’s ad was run, had defended his action: “A marriage is a meeting of minds, of souls. At mid-day, we believe that human rights should be applicable to all, regardless of religion, caste, colour, sexual orientation, etc. Therefore, a mother seeking a union for her gay son is perfectly normal. Why should it be any different?”

Mr Kalbag is due to leave the paper to begin work on launching The Hindu’s Mumbai edition. I got in touch with him to hear his side and he directed me to Vikas Joshi, the CEO of Mid-Day Multimedia. A text message sent to Mr Joshi’s number did not elicit a response. The story will be updated if and when we hear from him.

What could have prompted Mid-Day to effect this volte-face? I wonder if calls were made from political parties or right-wing organisations threatening Mid-Day with consequences if such ads were run again. Maybe there was a section that thought running a gay matrimonial ad was taking things too far.

But how does it take things too far, exactly? It is unlikely that the ad could have led to legal repercussions. It was simply an effort on a mother’s part to see her son settled. Due to the traditionally high traction of matrimonial columns, it would have been possible to find decent men looking for same-sex partners in its pages.

Over the weekend Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Silicon Valley. He met leaders of the tech pack including Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple. Cook is gay; he came out last year. The Bay Area’s ethos, which Modi would like to replicate back home to push his investment agenda, is inseparable from its libertarian politics. Live and let live, is the motto. I am glad that a person with Modi’s drive and enthusiasm for technology is visiting the gleaming campuses of Silicon Valley’s giants. But I fear that he will return with incomplete, if not altogether misplaced, lessons. True innovation cannot exist in the face of a lack of freedom. The freedom to live as one chooses, and to build a life of dignity.

If the government really wants to recreate a Silicon Valley back home, it will have to get out of people’s bedrooms and kitchens. It will have to give them the freedom to live as they want, to make choices as adults. It will have to stop treating them as minions who can be controlled via sundry bans and moral policing. If Modi cannot see that, he will have been blind to the real deal behind San Francisco’s tech boom.

We back home have been unable to change your government’s stand on this matter, Prime Minister. Maybe Silicon Valley’s enticing success will push you to. Maybe it is time, Prime Minister, to scrap Section 377, and allow gay men to have partners of their choice, partners that they can locate through such regular channels as matrimonial columns.

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