Galatta Pink ‘counsels’ lesbian couple, gaslights them into returning to parents

In a ‘Nenje Ezhu’ episode in Galatta Pink channel, a lesbian couple who spoke about how they fled their families due to the violence they faced, were suggested ‘conversion therapy’ and sent back with their families.
Anchor Sivasankari Sundar
Anchor Sivasankari SundarScreengrab | YouTube/Galatta Pink
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A Tamil YouTube channel reality show hosted a lesbian couple who fled their natal families to be with each other, only to gaslight them and send them back with their families. The show, in direct contravention of a Madras High Court order, also promoted the harmful and unscientific ‘conversion therapy’, subjecting the couple to an insensitive line of questioning and asking them to meet a ‘counsellor’ who would help “change their minds.” Throughout the 45-minutes show, the anchor promoted the disproved notion of ‘unconditional parental love,’ platforming biased narratives about LGBTQIA+ couples and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals seeking support.

The two women, aged 19 and 23 from south Tamil Nadu, appeared in the Nenje Ezhu programme aired on February 24 in the Galatta Pink YouTube channel, where they spoke about how they ran away from their families because of the violence they faced due to their sexuality.

Towards the end of the episode, the anchor is seen telling the couple that they would suggest a counsellor who would help “cure” the women. It is to be noted that in 2021, while hearing the S Sushma v Commissioner of Police case, Justice N Anand Venkatesh of the Madras HC had declared that any attempts to medically ‘cure’ or change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQIA+ persons should be prohibited. The court also directed action against professionals involved in any form of conversion therapy, including the withdrawal of their medical licence. In September 2022, the National Medical Commission (NMC) banned ‘conversion therapy’ and categorised it as professional misconduct.

Read: ‘Conversion therapy’ still continues in India, despite a ban

“The media house’s suggestion to the couple and their parents that they need counselling is an attempt to ‘cure’ or supposedly alter the sexual orientation of these women,” said G Sathiya, an advocate who focuses primarily on laws surrounding gender and sexuality. She pointed out how the women clearly stated in the show that they did not want to live with their parents and they were subjected to abuse, despite which the channel forced them to go back to their natal families.

According to the YouTube description provided below the video, the channel provided the contact details of “Iraivi NGO”, stating that they brought the women to the channel. Sathiya questioned why the NGO, which claims to be a safe space for those seeking shelter and protection, brought them to such a media channel.

When TNM contacted the number provided in the description, a woman named Zehra Fathima picked up, introducing herself as the trustee of the “Iraivi LGBT Charitable Trust.” In its website, the Trust claims to deliver “guidance, support, and information services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities,” protect them and “fight for their rights.” But a deeper dive into the website indicates that the Trust has limited knowledge and understanding of LGBTQIA+ persons — even referring to the transgender community as “immoral,” while simultaneously claiming to fight against their discrimination.

Zehra said the lesbian couple had approached them after coming across their website online. 

“They wanted a job and I assured them we can get them jobs. But one of the women was just 19, a kid. So I gave counselling to them and asked them to go back home, finish their studies, and come back. But they were adamant on staying together and said their parents were abusive,” she said. Zehra said she provided counselling “based on her ten years of experience in social work.”

She admitted that one of the women was beaten up, and the other was verbally abused, but the Trust decided to call the couple’s parents and convince them. “But they came as a gang and engaged in violent behaviour,” Zehra said.

This, apparently, was when the ‘Trust’ decided to approach Galatta’s Sivasankari, who Zehra claims is known to be involved in women-related issues. “I know other similar programmes also, in Kalaignar TV and Behindwoods. But I was not able to reach them,” she said.

In the episode, the anchor Sivasankari Sundar can be seen responding to the women’s experiences with disbelief, making constant attempts to downplay their relationship as a "friendship." In the first half of the video, she repeatedly asks the women how they identified that they were attracted to women. At one point, she also asks the couple when did their “care for each other” transform to “love” and “lust”. She also expresses absolute disbelief in the fact that two women could love each other romantically. 

In the second half of the video, the anchor starts labelling their relationship as a “friendship,” despite the women asserting that they were in a romantic relationship. She also gives them ‘advice’ they might change their mind after a year or so, because their current feelings for each other could only be because of their “young age.”

Repeatedly calling their relationship “wrong,” the show also attempts to draw similarities between the ‘care’ given by parents and a partner. The anchor claims that if parents are good friends with their children, then the children will not look for “friends” in others.

Advocate Sanjesh Mahalingam, who also has extensive experience working with gender and sexuality related cases, suggested the possibility that the couple might not have been able to provide an informed consent before appearing in the video. “Oftentimes, they are not told about the repercussions of revealing their identities in a video. At least their faces could have been blurred for privacy,” he said.

Citing a Madras HC order passed in 2022, Sathiya said the court had insisted that the media exercise “self-restraint” while reporting on matters pertaining to the LGBTQIA+ community. “The order specifically says there are instances where the community’s reality and struggles are being used to generate content and money for their gain, and directs media houses to report sensitively. In this video, we can see that the anchor continuously puts herself on a pedestal, says she doesn’t know about the existence of lesbian romance, and expresses disbelief at their story,” the lawyer pointed out.

The order Sathiya cited was passed on August 31, 2022, by Justice Venkatesh in the Sushma case, where he says, “Media’s insensitive commentary and ridiculing with dramatic words, music on ‘reporting’ though not new to our society, cannot be normalised. The reportage of the most intimate and personal aspects of an individual’s identity by the contemporary vernacular media is deeply problematic and it not just reflects the pre-existing harmful stigmatisation of the community, but also perpetuates it. Stigmatising, inaccurate and inherently unscientific phrases … are rooted in queerphobia and cannot be tolerated or entertained any further. It is high time journalists stick to sensitive and inclusive terms on the gender spectrum.”

The judge, in the order, further requests the media to exercise self-restraint, adding that the court doesn’t want to give any positive directions that may unwittingly trench upon the freedom of press. “This Court reposes confidence in the press and expects the press to show more sensitivity while reporting cases and maintain the confidentiality of the identity of the persons involved in a news item,” the order reads.

The actions of the Galatta Pink channel is a clear case of contempt of court, but there is no criminal offence made, said Sanjesh. “Only the court can take suo motu cognisance of the matter. Otherwise, those involved in the issue have to take legal recourse to take down the video and/or to take action against the media house. Though the NMC has passed an order deeming ‘conversion therapy’ illegal, they can take action only against doctors, if they are found to practise it,” he said.

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