TV's kangaroo courts? Solvadhellam Unmai’s Lakshmy on participant's suicide and ethics

Nagappan was outed as a paedophile on Sollvathaellam Unmai, and then he killed himself
TV's kangaroo courts? Solvadhellam Unmai’s Lakshmy on participant's suicide and ethics
TV's kangaroo courts? Solvadhellam Unmai’s Lakshmy on participant's suicide and ethics
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On August 23, 45-year-old Nagappan was found dead in his home in Perumbakkam. His suicide came after the airing of a show on a Tamil channel, where he was outed as a paedophile.

In the episode, he confessed to having sexually abused his sister-in-law’s two minor children, one 14 and the other 10 years old. It was his ex-wife and sister-in-law who had called in to the show.

While the show was taped three weeks ago, police suspect that the telecast of the confrontation on the show might have caused the suicide. The episode was immediately taken down from the channel’s website.

While Nagappan’s case ideally required an FIR to be lodged against him, the show leaves it to the family to take action by filing a complaint.

For 5 years, Zee Tamil has been broadcasting “Sollvadhellam Unmai”, an arbitration show with actor and director Lakshmy Ramakrishnan playing the mediator. Cases of dowry, sexual abuse, rape, harassment, infidelity and domestic violence are regularly dealt with on the show.

Many kangaroo court shows like “Solvadhellam Unmai” are aired in other languages – like “Kathayalla Jeevitham” on Amrita TV and “Jeevitham Sakhi” on Kairali TV. 

Lakshmy’s style is openly confrontational, spontaneous and chock-full of emotional reactions bordering on brash. The show plays lawyer and judge rolled into one, and many viewers look up to it with reverence.

In a free-wheeling chat with The News Minute, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan opens up about the show’s process, Nagappan’s suicide and her ‘expertise’ as a mediator.

Accountability and follow-ups pose a huge question when it comes to such shows. In Nagappan’s suicide, Polimer TV, a local channel, had called out Lakshmy and alleged that she was the cause of his suicide.

A flood of calls, threats and abuse followed. Lakshmy, however, keeps reiterating that Nagappan’s death is not the priority, the children are, despite the connections that people have drawn to the death and the telecast of the show.


“Nagappan committed suicide. His death was unfortunate, but what is the situation of the child? Isn't that the priority? Let's talk about the children and wife, Nagappan is not the priority, they are. The wife told me on the show that if not for the show, her daughter may have got pregnant. And Polimer TV too harassed me about my show, I felt tortured. Does this mean Polimer TV pushed me to suicide? We need to worry about the woman and children, not Mr Nagappan. He is a man and he chose to do it. Whereas the woman and children were exploited and placed in this situation. Children are everybody's responsibility,” she says about the events that followed the airing of the show.

Doesn't a taped confession not bring shame to a man like Nagappan? "Why are we not thinking of the 10-year-old child? Why are we not thinking of the mother who has been exploited? Is that not the priority?" she asks.

Lakshmi says that she repeatedly asked Nagappan's wife to file a police case, which she failed to do. 

“There is a contract that they sign which I don’t know the legalities of. But I sign a contract that I will not make false promises,” she says. "It is not the show that caused his suicide. His death is unfortunate, but it is not as important as talking about the wife and children," she says.

Lakshmy repeatedly says that the show encourages people to file police complaints, but adds they have boundaries. She adds, “There is a follow up process in a sense. We send our reporters there and encourage them to file the case. We can help children with education or shelter, but the rest has to come from them.”

The confessions on the show may not even stand in a court of law unless Lakshmy appears as a witness.

"We can call the police and help people file cases. People come here because they have some sort of confidence. There have been instances when we have told reporters to go with people and help them file cases."

Lakshmy is infuriated when asked if her show is a form of ‘katta panchayat’ (an illegal arbitration). While it’s clear that she is a mediator, what role does she really play – a judge or a katta panchayat? “I am a woman, I am a mother of three girls and I come from a big family. My experiences from my family and my profession helps me. If one of them does something wrong, I will say, “Don’t you have any sense?” You will want to scold them for their own good. The show is all about that,” she explains.

But isn’t there a power dynamic at play? “I never said throw Nagappan in jail, I didn’t play a court judge. I don’t have a superiority complex. I act as the member of a close knit family, not a katta panchayat. No one can lie when cameras are around,” Lakshmy says.

Such shows have also come under scrutiny as there is a significant level of shaming of one party to benefit the other. Is this a level playing ground? “I only do things according to societal ethics,” she said.

On the show, it’s clear that only a certain socio-economic class participates, usually of the lower strata.  Why is that? “Among the higher society, let's say there is a case of infedility, they will be financially independent. If they have psychological issues, they have access to counselling. People who come here don’t have their primary requirements met,” Lakshmy says.

But isn't it erroneous to assume that the higher strata are better equipped to handle problems like domestic violence? Lakshmy disagrees. “The lower strata don’t have anyone to tell them that they are wrong. That class needs help. There is so much immaturity in the class that they mishandle things. I have to tell them that they are wrong,” she opines. 

But there’s another question of expertise. Mediation is best done by a person armed with a law or a psychology degree. How is Lakshmy qualified to mediate? “This is something any citizen who loves their country can do. Why do I need a law degree? I have a large family, I empathise with their problems,” she says, adding, “I react like a grandmother would. I will say what is best for that situation. I will say what they are doing is wrong."

But isn’t that the exact thing a katta panchayat does? “I am not a judge or jury, I always tell them look at me like an aunt. I am mediating like a person in your family. Did I say put Nagappan in jail? I told the mother to go to police, to go to the juvenile board. I told her to throw him out of the house. There was a woman who told me she murdered her husband. Did I put her in jail? We handed her over to the police. Where am I a judge or jury?" she counters.  

In 2012, Lakshmi had made the movie called 'Arohanam', that dealt sensitively with a woman who suffered from bi-polar disorder. 

Lakshmy says that there are many success stories.  She quotes the case of Shanthi Roselin, the mother of a girl who died under mysterious circumstances, two years ago as an example. A parish priest was allegedly behind her death. The rapist came under the police scanner after the mother appeared on the show. In another instance, dead bodies were found in the backyard of a house after a person’s confession on her show.

But do these successes validate other possible failures? And are there no grey areas?

Lakshmy’s view: “I only see the intention. If someone comes with the intention of humiliation, we decline. If you are going to sit here and talk to me, let there be a positive outcome. Infidelity is wrong, it is a moral truth. It is an ethical truth. It is purely wrong. We have a set of societal ethics, and mostly there are no grey areas as far as I think. Why he does what he does is not important, how it affects his wife is important."

Editor's note: This is an updated version of the interview. The earlier version had certain inferences which were not correct. We regret the error.

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