While the English media in the country has frequently discussed LGBTQI issues in print and TV, regional channels have not yet entered the conversation in a big way. And in the few instances that they have, it hasn't always been an informed debate.
For instance, actor Geetha who hosts a Telugu reality TV show called Bathuku Jathaka Bandi which airs on Zee Telugu, came under flak for inviting a queer couple on the programme and insulting them.
However, Sun TV's Nijangal, a similar talk show hosted by actor Khushbu, recently had representatives from the gay community sharing their views and experiences honestly. They spoke of how they'd been discriminated against since childhood for being "different" - the experiences ranging from school bullying to street sexual harassment. The men who spoke on the show were from various walks of life and included a professor and an activist.
Rejection from families and the lack of support from the medical and legal fraternity were highlighted as the greatest difficulties facing the community. One person revealed that while his mother was understanding of transgender persons, homosexuality was something that she still couldn't come to terms with.
Khushbu also brought up the issue of gay men staying in heterosexual marriages, unwilling to come out of the closet because of social pressures. Professor Shankar who spoke on the show said that nearly 8-10% of the population was likely to be gay and that this meant a huge section of society was still living in secrecy.
Activist Shiva further added that not only gay people, even those who worked for their benefit, like lawyers or counsellors, were stigmatised by others. Khushbu opened up the debate on homosexuality and religion, and the men pointed out that if god had created everyone, it was god who made them gay.
A Christian priest, Kribakaran, who came on the show, took a surprisingly nuanced view of the issue and said that though there were verses in the Bible which were against homosexuality, there were now discussions about the interpretations of some of these stories. He also said there were gay bishops, and that these changes were made after deliberations that took into consideration various factors. Stating that same sex pairings could be seen in the animal world too, the priest said that god, above all, wants justice, and did not discriminate against anyone.
Lawyer Udayashankari, one of the guests, tried to justify Section 377, claiming that if homosexual marriages were allowed, society was in danger of losing its population because such a marriage would not result in biological children. It was the gay men who explained the origin of the Act and the fact that it included a wide range of carnal activities and not only gay sex.
Udayashankari further went on to argue against homosexuality by discussing the impact it would apparently have on property laws and "tradition". What was impressive was that neither the anchor nor the gay men shouted her down but patiently engaged with her in a discussion, sticking to facts and statistics.
The episode has been uploaded on YouTube.
Speaking to The News Minute, Khushbu said, "In today's world, everybody needs to live with dignity. This is a choice that an individual makes and it's perfectly fine if you want to live in a different way. We have to accept it. We shouldn't be brushing these things under the carpet and trying to ignore it."
Asked if she was worried about repercussions that the show could have, considering how big a taboo it is to speak on homosexuality, Khushbu said that she strongly believed in supporting LGBT rights. "I'm one person who has always been fighting for LGBT rights and think that they should have equal rights to live with a lot of respect and dignity."
Considering Khushbu has previously faced flak for expressing her views on subjects that have to do with "morality", did she not wonder if she'd get into trouble for the show once again? Laughing, Khushbu says, "I've never been bothered as to what others think or what if the fringe groups start picking on this… I'm not bothered by what the fringe groups think."
Speaking of why such a topic was brought into the show, Khushbu says, "We offer a very wide and fair platform to discuss various social problems. We are not judgmental or apathetic. We're empathetic and we're trying to understand their point of view."