Ranjona Banerji: A lesson for journalists from the Supreme Court verdict

07 Sep,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Supreme Court of India in a historic judgment on September 6, 2018, struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, an old colonial law from 1861 which criminalised “carnal intercourse” which is “against the order of nature”. Effectively, by decriminalising Section 377, the Supreme Court has recognised the sexual rights of the LGBTQI community and brought India into the 21st century.

The SC has also stood up for individual rights and against the conservative tide of majoritarian thinking. There is a good less

on here for some of our colleagues in journalism who still find it hard to comprehend the importance of the Constitution of India and of the fundamental rights it gives all of us. And of the deep significance of speaking out for the oppressed minorities.

Many news channels, as the news broke yesterday morning, immediately went to people like Dr Subramanian Swamy who as expected went into a rant about how this is an “American game” and how gay bars and HIV will spread. The proper journalistic counter to that would be “so what” as far as gay bars are concerned and to completely demolish this spurious argument about HIV. In fact, by decriminalising 377, it is now easier to give treatment to the community which does not have to be scared, discriminated against and hidden any more. Also, the spread of HIV in India is over 80 per cent through heterosexual sex.

These are facts which are easily available in the public domain. Speaking to Dr Swamy only stems from a desire to stir things up and not to be “objective” and as many of these journalists will claim. India’s HIV programme has in fact suffered tremendously since Dr Swamy’s government came to power. Why not an expose on that from our “objective” friends?

The Supreme Court has called its own 2013 verdict, which overturned the Delhi High Court 2009 judgment which struck down Section 377, retrograde and arbitrary. Judges quoted Goethe, Shakespeare and Leonard Cohen to make their point that “any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation amounts to violation of fundamental rights”.

Obviously, our fundamentalists of all religious persuasions will be unhappy with this judgment, and the debate then has to be between the Constitution, legality, morality, democracy and regressive, discriminatory thinking. These are serious matters and one can only hope that we are not subjected to endless tamashas but I will not hold my breath.

Since our news anchors are always looking for “objective” debates, my humble suggestion is that every time they bring a retired police officer on to their shows holding forth against the various “anti-nationals” that have upset them, they might also try bringing a few people wrongly accused by the same police officer and therefore wrongly convicted. Is that objective and balanced enough for them, pitting the “guilty” against the “innocent”? It might require some hard work but might make for interesting television, no?

**

Many in the world have applauded Nike for its ads controversial NFL player Colin Kaepernick, with the lines, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”, followed by Nike’s #JustDoIt slogan. Republicans and Trumpers across the US were very angry because Kaepernick’s claim to fame is kneeling during the American National Anthem, which he did to protest racism and injustices done to minorities.

There is much argument about whether Nike is being activist or just capitalist by speaking to its core consumers. Whichever is true, Nike has not just got people talking, it has also ostensibly stood for something.

Soon after Section 377 was struck down, Indigo Airlines and Swiggy both supported the SC judgment on Twitter. The airline said “about time” playing on its slogan about being on time and Swiggy had a piece of rainbow cake. Both mentioned love.

Whether or not they were playing to their gallery, they both spoke against the majoritarian tide and for the minority. So kudos to them for that!

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal

 

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