5th of July, 2017 saw the news headline ‘All Hell Breaks Loose as two Women wed in Koramangala‘ in Bangalore Mirror (BM). It started doing rounds on social media and people congratulating the two women for getting married to each other.
It reads, “In perhaps the first lesbian ‘wedding’ in Bengaluru, a 25-year-old woman tied the knot with a 21-year-old at a temple in Koramangala.” The news article calls the two women ‘lesbians’ and they also gave their specific details of their age and location. Another paragraph reads, “The parents then informed the police about the ‘wedding’ and their active sexual relations. The police, however, refused to act as they do not have jurisdiction unless there is a specific complaint from one of the women. The police then referred the case to Vanitha Sahayavani in police commissioner’s office. Senior counsellor BS Saraswathi said she had spoken to both the women and their ‘counselling was on’.” The article gave details about one of the girl’s education and other girl’s father’s occupation. Wasn’t this a sell out? Weren’t these points enough for anyone to gauge the two women’s identities?
The news article gave their specific details of their age and location.
In another turn of events, Public TV, a Kannada news channel got in touch with the two women and kept pestering them to come to their show and when they refused, the reporter from Public TV told her to “wait and see”. In the meanwhile, Public TV uploaded ‘blurred’ and yet not blurred details of their photos on their Facebook and Twitter page and captioned them as having and “incestuous” relationship. These pictures led to one more development. The company where one of the women worked fired her the very day.
In a panel discussion on News 9, a gay activist who has been in touch with the women said that they never publicly said that they are in a relationship. Apparently, the father of one of the women went to BM and told them they got married. BM did not care to verify the facts and published the facts. In their article, they generously said that they knew of many more details, but they want to keep them away.
This is what they had to say, “Bangalore Mirror has details of both but has chosen not to reveal their identities as they could face a backlash.” Should we as a community thank them for not ‘letting out’ the details?
The company where one of the women worked fired her the very day.
We understand that unlike the 90’s where media did not want to publish stories on LGBTQIA+ issues, things have changed quite a bit after the 2009 judgement. Many media houses are eager to report on LGBTQIA+ issues. Some might actually be trying to help, or are more likely just hoping for their TRP ratings to improve. Whatever it is – you need to understand that LGBTQIA+ people are not your social experiments. We understand you need to report, but you report it on our terms and by being sensitive.
The BM news piece mentioned “counselling” being done to the women. It also mentioned a lawyer who said that such relationships are “unnatural”.
One of the women had faced domestic abuse from her parents and left that abusive situation to stay with another woman. It does not matter if they were in a relationship or not. The main point here is the domestic abuse she faced from her parents and that these women are adults and can choose to live the life they want.
It was the father who had gone to BM with the story of their marriage to create a furore, as reported by the gay rights activist. Did BM not find it important to enquire about these facts before calling them “married”?
BM also claimed itself to be progressive where they said that they hid the details of their lives. Don’t they know that a story like this with specific details and a sensitive headline will create havoc in the lives of those women? BM in another article accused Public TV for publishing their photos, but they never owned up to their own mistake.
Public TV went a step ahead and published their pictures without their consent. They said they blurred them but they definitely did not hide their markers. They have also been accused by the women of being harassed for interviews on their channel. Again, where is the consent? Or is that not a valid word any longer when it comes to media reporting on LGBTQIA+ issues?
By outing LGBTQIA+ individuals forcefully, these media houses are doing a disservice to the entire community.
LGBTQIA+ people face severe discrimination and stigma because of who they are. By outing them forcefully on media, media houses are doing a disservice to the entire community. More importantly, livelihood is a big concern for this community. Because of issues such as severe domestic abuse and social discrimination, the community is in urgent need of sustainable jobs.
In this case, one of the women was sacked from her company (which is of course unjust and an act of violence). This situation could have been avoided if both BM and Public TV had done sensitive journalism.
A press release by civil society organisations against this, in Karnataka said, “As civil society organisations that work on the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals, we are horrified at the absolute lack of concern that media organisations demonstrate for the lives of people that they are reporting. We know that this is an incident that involves tremendous amounts of domestic violence and abuse. We are also aware that these women are living in constant fear for their lives. They have endured domestic violence, police harassment, and threats to their lives, and had achieved a semblance of peace for themselves. However, the actions of media houses have shattered this hard-earned respite, and now they are again forced to be on the run.”
Nazariya, a queer feminist resource group, had organized a workshop for journalists to talk about media guidelines while reporting on LGBTQIA+ guidelines. After having reached out to several journalists and media houses, we had only 9 participants. None of the mainstream newspapers cared to come for this workshop – maybe that would not increase their TRP. In that workshop, we had focused on the ways in which you need to report on LGBTQIA+ people. There are many other guidelines available to make reporting sensitive to the lives of LGBTQIA+ people. Our lives are anyway a myriad of various positive and negative experiences – don’t make them worse by publishing insensitive and unnecessary details about our lives.
Featured Image Credit: A screenshot of the Bangalore Mirror article via Orinam