If there had to be an exemplar for heterosexual bias in the language around LGBTQI issues on primetime television, it could be a segment about the Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage on Sudhir Chaudhary’s show on Aaj Tak.
With gendered portrayals, fearmongering, amplification of the central government’s arguments, and tom-tomming of religiocultural values, the framing for a heterosexual viewer was clear. The dog whistle seemed to be that same-sex marriage does not bode well for Indian society and a third world country already dealing with problems such as electricity, poverty, hunger and unemployment.
For starters, Chaudhary seemed to have the fundamentals wrong.
The anchor referred to such marriages as a union of the “same gender” as compared to “opposite gender” in traditional relationships. The appropriate word would’ve been sex, which is a definition of biological sexual attributes, instead of gender, which marks socially constructed norms. But conservatives who oppose the distinction between sex and gender are usually blind to that nuance – a debate that has ensued ever since the adoption of this difference in the 1960s.
The same distinction, by the way, is under debate in the Supreme Court. When Chief Justice DY Chandrachud remarked that the notion of biological man is not absolute, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that gender is only biological.
Meanwhile, on Aaj Tak, Chaudhary had a gem on the global development divide. Depression and same-sex marriage are “first world” issues, he said, adding that India must first resolve third world problems such as electricity, hunger, poverty and unemployment. (Hat tip to Chaudhary though for a rare moment of primetime acceptance of the country’s biggest issues.)
A startling claim about a country which makes up for 18 percent of the global population suffering from depression, according to WHO. It’s also the second biggest cause of death among young Indians, as per a Lancet report.
Additionally, even the declaration about same-sex marriage being a first world issue may not be factually correct. While around half of the 34 countries that have legalised such unions are in western Europe, there are some in South America, besides nations such as South Africa and Mexico.
Then came an assertion of the idea that a marriage must always have gendered relationships, with a caricature that reflected little else than a gender stereotype – of a husband and wife in each union. With an illustration showing a woman with facial hair, Chaudhary indicated that this is what it could mean “if your daughter wants to bring a girl to your home as the daamaad (son-in-law)”. Or, if your son wants to bring another man as the “putrvadhu (daughter-in-law)”. “Aapko kitna bada jhatka lagega.”
While many traditional marriages usually adopt the titles of husband and wife, same-sex marriages are likely to prefer the term partner or spouse, precisely not to align with the same definitions extolled by Chaudhary.
Giving a glimpse of “bhavishya ka mudda”, the anchor then told viewers to be prepared for questions such as how the marriage rituals will be executed – considering the gendered nature of the Hindu phera, Muslim ‘qabool hai’ and the Christian ‘I do’, where the groom and bride play specific roles in the ceremonies. “Iske baad desh mein ye behes chhid jaegi, ki vivaah ke jo saath phere honge, wo kaise liye jaenge. Nikaah mein qabool hai pehle kaun bolega. Church mein jab shaadi hoti hai, to pehle I do kehne ki baari kiski hogi.”
“Ye hai toh bhavishya ka mudda, ismein aap bhavishya ki kalpna bhi kar sakte hain,” Chaudhary said, pointing to an uncertain future.
After the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality in 2018, “a set of people from the elite class in big cities” began demanding legal acknowledgement for same-sex marriage in the country, the anchor claimed. This wasn’t as creative a declaration on part of the anchor as it’s an argument propagated in court by the central government.
The petitioners seeking legal sanction for such marriages have meanwhile maintained that legality is more about seeking the same set of rights that are available to traditional couples, such as adoption, inheritance and tax benefits.
Giving viewers a glimpse of the Supreme Court hearing into the issue, the channel aired the segment that ostensibly had a strong point by the government: about the distinction between sex and gender problematising criminal proceedings. Among various examples, the government’s counsel had asked the court how the police will summon male suspects to the police station at odd hours if the possibility of them being from another gender was factored in. The definition of biological man can’t be contested, the solicitor general argued.
There was also a slip, when Chaudhary attributed the government’s arguments to the Supreme Court. “Toh Supreme Court keh rahi hai ki bhai agar samlaingik vivaah ko kaanoon banaana bhi hai toh ye kaam Sansad ka hai, ye adaalat ka kaam nahin,” he said.
Pointing to the court’s objection to the government’s arguments, the anchor said, “Chief Justice Chandrachud said that I am the incharge and I will decide how things work here, not the government…Justice Chandrachud is a very strong judge, and when he hears such matters, he doesn’t listen to anyone.”
There was a caveat at the end; overshadowed, however, by the larger portion of the telecast. “In reality, this is also about rights that people in homosexual marriages do not get…there is nothing wrong in this. This can be their right because these people are also citizens of this country. And they enjoy as many rights as other citizens do.”
The telecast was replete with visuals from pride parades and same-sex marriages.
“Bharat mein shaadi ka matlab hai parivaar, aur bharat ka poora samajik dhaancha isi pe aadhaarit hai,” the anchor said, explaining that the entire social structure of the country rests on the idea of family – giving little space at the same time to the adoption process being unavailable for same sex couples.
Three complaints have now been filed against the India Today Group over the show by activist Indrajeet Ghorpade.
Filed 3 complaints with NBDSA against the India Today Group for its reporting on the LGBTQIA+ Marriage Equality case, for violating Broadcasting Standards pertaining to accuracy, neutrality, objectivity, good taste & decency and Guidelines on Reporting Court Proceedings. pic.twitter.com/AxyK8ViOfC— Jeet (@jeetxg) April 24, 2023
“Filed 3 complaints with NBDSA against the India Today Group for its reporting on the LGBTQIA+ Marriage Equality case, for violating Broadcasting Standards pertaining to accuracy, neutrality, objectivity, good taste & decency and Guidelines on Reporting Court Proceedings,” he wrote on Twitter. “AajTak maliciously misquoted the Chief Justice of India, amplified Government’s false claim that Marriage Equality is an Urban Elite issue, spread stigma against LGBTQIA+ people and used images & videos of several LGBTQIA+ people without their informed consent.”
Ghorpade has previously filed several against many news channels, including Aaj Tak, and got favourable orders from the news broadcasters and digital standards authority.
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