India's first LGBT radio channel spent hours after the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 listening and talking to a stunned and disappointed community
“It’s 1am here and I read the news on Facebook and was just starting to digest the information when my mother called from India and asked me not to come back," said Abhinava, a gay man from Canada, before he broke down on Q Radio, the Bangalore-based online LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) channel on Radiowalla.in.
“I don’t want to be a criminal once again. I have faced this all my life in India. I am not a criminal," he said choking on his words. Abhinava (who only mentioned his first name on the show) was reacting to the Supreme Court’s verdict that upheld Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes gay and lesbian sex.
A two-judge bench ruled on Wednesday that the courts should not intervene and that it was up to Parliament to legislate on the issue, thus setting aside, in one sweep, a historic 2009 Delhi high court judgement.
“None of us can come to a logical conclusion on what the reasoning behind the verdict is, a big hug to you, please do not cry. The fight begins today," responded radio jockey Vaishalli Chandra in what was clearly an emotional and testing moment in the studio.
“We were all set to do a live call-in show at 10am whichever way the verdict went, but were just shocked when we heard it," said Chandra, who is also the channel manager for Q Radio, the country’s only radio station dedicated to the LGBT community that was launched in September. The content of the 24-hour service switches between live and recorded programmes.
On Wednesday, the phone rang off the hook with people from across the world calling in to share their disbelief on the show hosted by Chandra and Aaditya Vaze.
Their first call came from Dehradun, in which a 20-year-old gay man wanted to know what his future would look like.
“There is nothing but disbelief here in the studio and we’re hoping that it is wrong. It’s not too much to ask for people to be open-minded," Vaze said on air in an early reaction to the news.
The purpose of the channel was to offer a platform for the community, said Anil Srivatsa, CEO and co-founder, Radiowalla.in. “This can and will be sustainable only if the LGBT community takes over and provides us with content and what better situation than this where the momentum is high," says Srivatsa.
Swagat M. Shah, who led Gujarat’s first gay pride march this year, came on air at noon to say it was the most unfortunate day of his life. “This is a huge injustice. We will have to take to the roads now, there is no choice." He said that many of his friends had called in distress threatening to kill themselves.
It is emotions like these that disturb LGBT activist Romal Singh, also a radio jockey with the channel who spent the morning at the Alternative Law Forum (ALF) office to understand the implications of the judgement.
Not equipped with a full copy of the judgement at the time, Singh went on air to clarify that the judgement didn’t mean that homosexuals need to go back into the closet. “This only means that more people need to come out and talk about their sexuality. The law doesn’t criminalize our identity, but the act. That said, I am appalled that the Supreme Court has upheld what is against human rights. It’s time that the law goes the bottom-up way, more supporters should get on the streets now," Singh said on the show.
Ironically, when Mint spoke to Singh when the channel first launched, he had said, “We have won some battles and it’s time we enjoyed ourselves and celebrated our lives in all its myriad colours." Now, he said, it seems like they had taken several steps behind. “I am waiting for 48 hours when the SC is going to be shamed internationally."
With increasing panic and distress among callers, the station has started to put out messages explaining what the law means and why people shouldn’t stop themselves from publicly disclosing their sexual identities.
Though the channel moved to recorded programming after noon, they went live from Bangalore’s Town Hall starting 4.30pm, where the community and supporters gathered to protest the verdict. Chandra reported the atmosphere from the venue via her mobile phone, while RJ Shreyas took calls from the studio.
“Come with black flags, come dressed in black, come if you are gay, come if you aren’t," said radio jockeys, urging listeners to attend simultaneous protests in different cities.
THIS IS NOT OVER, their Facebook page stated before sharing CEO Srivatsa’s personal status message which alerted “heterosexuals and homophones" that under Section 377, consensual oral sex was also illegal. “And I, as a heterosexual, have a BIG PROBLEM with that!!! If you are not for the LGBT, at least protest 377 for your own rights. OK? JAIL BHARO!"