Suraj Revanna case: Media is busy persecuting homosexuality than reporting sexual assault

Most media reports, both in English and Kannada, have described the allegations against Suraj as “unnatural”, or “abnormal sexual assault”, propagating homophobic stereotypes and persecuting him for his assumed homosexuality, rather than his alleged crime.
Suraj Revanna
Suraj Revanna
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TV9 Kannada ran a short segment on the allegations against Janata Dal (Secular) leader and Karnataka Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Suraj Revanna in its long-running and hugely popular news comedy show Neevu Heliddu Navu Keliddu. In the show, cartoon-like voices poke fun at political developments or statements made by politicians with smiling emojis floating around on the screen and audience laughter played at punchlines. 

Talking about Holenarasipura MLA HD Revanna, father of Prajwal and Suraj, both of whom are in jail over charges of sexual assault, the cartoon voice said, “One son has gone to jail on rape cases and hasn’t gotten out yet. The other son has also been arrested for rape, that too, thuu, in a homosexual rape case.” The word “thuu” is an expression of disgust, which in this case was directed at same-sex relationships.

A news report on Vistara News claimed that one of the alleged survivors had made an “interesting statement” that Suraj Revanna liked to wear saris and bangles on new moon days. 

Much like the hasty, sensationalised reportage of the sexual assault cases against former JD(S) MP Prajwal Revanna, the media’s coverage of the emerging sexual assault allegations against his elder brother Suraj Revanna has been disturbing. In Suraj’s case, the allegations have been made by two men, and the coverage exacerbates stigma, perpetuating homophobic stereotypes against queer individuals. Most media reports, both in English and Kannada, have described the allegations against Suraj as “unnatural sexual assault”, or “abnormal sexual assault”. 

Reporting on the allegations against Suraj, a Kannada news anchor said, “Prajwal Revanna was accused of assaulting women. But his older brother has assaulted men! In our culture, love, and friendship are such that men often put an arm around the shoulders of other men when they go about. But when such cases happen, people will suspect men who are friendly with each other. (This case) has brought us to such a situation.”

LGBTQIA+ rights activists and members of the queer community have expressed concerns that the present coverage of the allegations – either framing homosexuality as a crime, something that one can save oneself from, or as a despicable sexual expression – may lead to hate crimes against queer people. 

Suraj Revanna has been accused of sexually assaulting two male party workers. The allegations came to light on June 21 when Kannada television news channel Power TV interviewed one of the survivors named Anil (name changed). The next day, Anil filed a police complaint. A second man, Sanjay (name changed,) also later filed a complaint against Suraj, accusing him of sexual assault during the Covid lockdown. 

The notion of gay sex being “unnatural” comes from social prejudice which in India, was given legal sanction by Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Commonly known as the “unnatural offence”, 377 defines alternate sexual expression as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. 

In the landmark Navtej Singh judgment of 2018, the Supreme Court read down Section 377 and effectively decriminalised consensual same-sex relationships, but retained the provision in the law to protect against sexual assault of men, several LGBTQIA+ individuals, and animals. Until then, the Section was used by the law enforcement authorities to intimidate and harass consenting queer couples.

Questioning the media’s usage of the term “unnatural sexual assault”, Mallu Kumbar, the state coordinator of the Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum, said, “The media must understand the 2018 verdict. The Supreme Court said that any consensual sexual activity between adults is not an offence. Let the media come and discuss (the issues of sexual minorities) with us.”

Media’s moral persecution of same-sex relationships

The National Network of Gender and Sexual Minorities and several civil society groups in Karnataka have condemned the “extremely homophobic” language used by the Kannada media. Calling the allegations against Suraj Revanna “extremely grave”, the groups called for a thorough investigation without stereotyping LGBTQIA+ individuals. 

In a joint statement released on Wednesday, June 26, the Network said, “A case of sexual assault is simply that, regardless of the sexuality of the person accused… It is like Suraj Revanna is being tried for the non-existent crime of homosexuality and not the actual and real crime of sexual assault or non-consensual sex.”

The Network pointed out that the media used terms such as “this lafanga, this homosexual” to describe Suraj. Journalists also asked homophobic questions about how this “sexual interest formed”, and how “men can save themselves from becoming like this”.

Mallu Kumbar said that such language in the media will have an adverse impact on the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole. “The media is saying terrible things about homosexuality. I am openly trans. I am getting calls from people asking me if all gay people assault men. Heterosexual men will think that gay men will assault them. This situation will lead to violence against queer people,” she said. 

She also questioned the media’s labelling of Suraj as “gay”. “Whether or not Suraj is gay, only he can say. Who is the media to call him that? He can go to court in the future (for defamation). What we know is that he has been accused of sexual assault. Let him be investigated for that,” she pointed out.

No protection for male survivors’ privacy

Some English and Kannada media have named the male survivors who filed complaints against Suraj. While Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code prohibits the media from publishing names of women rape victims, the POCSO Act and sections of the Juvenile Justice Act extend this protection to minor victims of all genders. 

However, no such protection is extended to survivors of sexual assault who are men or of genders other than women, against being named by the media.

Mallu said that the media should have nonetheless protected the identities of the survivors in the Suraj Revanna cases. “These men have accused a very powerful man of sexual assault. The media should keep the long-term welfare of survivors in mind while reporting such crimes,” she underlined. 

Read: Suraj Revanna case underlines flaws in new criminal law: No recourse for men, LGBTQIA+ persons

Media must be prohibited by police

The National Network of Gender and Sexual Minorities has demanded that the police issue an order prohibiting the media from characterising homosexuality as “unnatural” in the coverage of the Suraj Revanna case, and direct them to adhere to the standards laid down in the Program and Advertisement Code 1994.

Manvi Atri, a lawyer with the Campaign Against Hate Speech, said that the Police Commissioner or District Magistrate heads the District Level Monitoring Committee set up under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act 1995 to regulate private TV channels. The public can lodge complaints with the Committee about content that degrades people based on caste, religion, gender, etc. 

Manvi said that a delegation of activists would meet the Commissioner seeking action against the disturbing coverage of the allegations. “The media should just use the term sexual assault. The emphasis of the coverage should be on the alleged assaults and not on Suraj Revanna’s sexuality. We will ask the Commissioner for an order directing that TV channels issue an apology and run it on prime time for a week,” Manvi said. In the Ramesh Jarkiholi case in 2021 the Police Commissioner had issued orders about the media coverage, she added. 

The Union government can penalise violations of the Program and Advertisement Code 1994 by directing the offending channel to carry an apology for a prescribed period, or even suspend broadcast. 

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