The humiliating treatment meted out to an LGBTQ couple on a Telugu television show has been strongly condemned by queer rights activists in the Telugu speaking states.
Film actor Geetha who hosts the show “Bathuku Jataka Bandi” on Zee Telugu, had insulted a queer couple for both their sexual orientation and their sexuality, and declared their love and identities as a “sin”.
The show featured a young woman (20), and a transman (23).
In an episode aired on October 31, the narrator claimed at the beginning that the “girls” have expressed their wish to settle their dispute with the parents on the program, and let them marry.
The show follows the format of an arbitrator who is both interrogator and judge, and describes itself as a socially responsive show where disturbed families are re-united with a course of dispute settlement and counselling.
After a brief mention of the “problem”, Geetha calls the trans man first, and talks to him, followed by the woman, their parents, a psychologist, and a lawyer. While Geetha humiliates the couple, she tells the parents how they can ‘correct’ their children, and along with the psychologist and lawyer, berates the whole queer community for their ‘immoral’ and ‘deviant’ behaviour.
Although she starts out friendly enough,Geetha soon makes nasty comments as the trans man talks about his life, how he identified more with being a boy, fell in love, and cut his hair a few years ago. Her harsh remarks often silence him. She also always refers to him as “she”.
The 40-minute show also suggests, through visual and sound effects, that the experiences of the trans man – and by extension the whole queer community – are somehow ‘deviant’. For instance, when the trans man says he always felt like a boy, she says “Since childhood you have the same buddhi (sensibility). Didn’t your parents correct you?”
Geetha also tries to invalidate his feelings by telling him: “You can be good friends lifelong. This marriage business, roaming around, going to parks, cinemas, is shameful.”
When he says he thinks of the woman as his life partner, the camera zooms in and out on Geetha’s face, while loud music typical of ‘shocking scenes’ in soaps plays in the background.
To the woman, Geetha asks questions like “Do you have no shame?”. She even threatened the girl several times, saying “I will thrash you” and “I will hit you with slippers”.
“How do you even have sex?” she said at one point.
To the parents of the woman,Geetha says things like “tie her up”, “get her married and send her somewhere… ” to “solve the problem”. Such so-called ‘corrective’ measures that parents have inflicted on their children, have traumatised many queer people. Geetha also asked the couple whether they “have no shame to be in love”.
In the beginning, the trans man is seen speaking almost shyly but with no shame about his feelings as a person who did not identify with the gender assigned at birth. In the face of Geettha’s harsh remarks, both he and the woman look disheartened and unnerved. However, both repeatedly attempt to express their views to Geetha, the lawyer and psychologist. Parents too appear to be distressed. At one point, one of the parents falls at the feet of the woman.
Queer activists have lambasted the show for its treatment of the couple, and also the impact it would have – on the of attitudes of the larger society towards queer people, and also on the mental well-being of LGBTQ people who face stigma on a day to day basis.
One of the ways in which Geetha, the doctor, and lawyer project the LGBTQ community, is to call it “a battle between social norms and physical attraction”.
Madhav, a member of queer community, said, “This happened due to lack of awareness and ignorance in the society. What qualification does she have to come to such conclusions?”
Hyderabad’s queer community has demanded that Zee Telugu and the whole team that made the show publicly apologize for their language, and for spreading prejudice and ignorance about the queer community.
“This show has disturbed many transgender people and lesbians who watched it. The makers of the show will be fully responsible if the couple goes into depression. Now that people in Telangana are accepting their trans children, such shows will only increase their problems,” Kaveri Karthik, an LGBT activist pointed out.
He also said that, they plan to file a complaint against the TV show.
In September, the programme's regular host Jeevitha and her two personal assistants were accused of threatening an auto-rickshaw driver Konda to participate in the show. A complaint was reportedly filed against them with the police for intimidation.
Last month, the LGBTQ community in Karnataka too had criticised news channel TV9 Kannada for similarly demonising transgender people in a news programme, and protested against it. They had said that the progress made by the transgender community in dispelling prejudice and gaining acceptance in society and among parents had been palpably reversed after the telecast of the programme.
Edited by Anisha Sheth