The Satyamev Jayate episode which aired on October 19, 2014, on the subject of sexuality and gender identities was no doubt an eye-opener for the many who saw the show. It was also helpful to some who watched the show with their parents – uncomfortable conversations had just received a reference point. The show itself had kept its treatment of the subject crisp, seeking to show ‘difference’, by allowing persons to talk about their own life experiences, from their isolation as children to their sense of joy at being accepted by their families. This was the story of a slice of queer India, and these are truths no one can escape.
Yet, an advocate from Chandigarh has filed a petition against the show for promoting homosexuality, and a civil court judge has even accepted it and issued a legal notice to Aamir Khan, the host of the show, asking him to respond by 19 December. According to a news snippet in The Tribune, the petition stated that the actor was promoting Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in favour of rights of homosexuals, which is against the law of the land.
The petition is troubling, because this is precisely the sort of effort at silencing voices of dissent that the 11 December, 2013 verdict of the Supreme Court, which upheld the constitutionality of Section 377, has made possible. It is also completely mistaken about what Khan did on the show: he didn’t ask his audience to become homosexuals or ‘turn gay’ as the colourful phrase goes (just for fun, the petitioner should try doing that herself and see what happens), but encouraged his audience to think of a world they know little about. He invited them to ask questions directed at themselves and at a psychiatrist on the show to challenge their long-standing notions of what is acceptable. He asked them to expand the definition of normal to include more people.
The advocate also seems confused about her country. It’s only in Russia that a preposterous law bans “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors under the age of 18, earning it the moniker of the anti-gay propaganda law. (It is what prompted the ZEFS, a Russian group of companies, to dismantle a memorial to Steve Jobs, in the form of a six-foot high iPhone, after Apple CEO Tim Cook came out as gay last week. Jobs was not gay.) Section 377 of the IPC, on the other hand, does not punish gender and sexual identity; it certainly does not punish inviting people to think about it either. Scores of articles have been written against it; television channels have had special shows on it, Bollywood films have depicted and alluded to homosexual relations, scores of books and literary pieces have been written with queer characters, many protest marches have been held throughout the country, including the massive Global Day of Rage that was held barely a few days after the apex court judgment, in nearly 40 countries around the globe and in over 30 cities in India.
The right to dissent - whether to an act of the Indian Penal Code, or the actions of politicians, or against the problematic actions of those in our own families - is part of our fundamental right of freedom of expression. Informed and constructive critique is the bedrock of democracy. By inviting his audience to call at a toll-free number to register their unwillingness to allow a colonial-era law to remain in existence, Khan urged the audience to exercise this right.
A monthly blog on gender, sexuality and blind spots