TV9 Kannada rides roughshod over transgenders

BY PUSHPA ACHANTA| IN Media Practice | 12/10/2016
The channel’s insensitive depiction of transgenders has put them at greater risk of violence and hostility, angering an already vulnerable community.
PUSHPA ACHANTA reports

TV grab from Operation Anandi on TV9 

 

Over eight years ago, a young person from Bangalore who felt trapped in the body of a man, left home as his parents did not accept his wearing women’s clothes. The person began to live with transwomen, underwent a sex reassignment operation in 2008, took the name Shilpa and began to identify as a mangalamukhi (one of the socio-cultural identities among transgender persons). However, when her parents complained to the Bangalore police, they took custody of Shilpa and forced her to undergo a painful penis reconstruction procedure using skin grafted from her left arm, and other sex change reversal procedures at Apollo Hospital.

Moreover, the two transwomen who helped Shilpa - Mangala and Baby - were incarcerated for over two years on the false accusation of having kidnapped and forcibly castrated Shilpa. TV9 Kannada telecast the stories of Shilpa, Baby and Mangala in an exaggerated and insensitive manner which adversely impacted the lives of the transgender community, especially in Karnataka.

Human rights activists criticized the actions of the police and news reports biased against transgenders. The repercussions of this negative stereotyping of transgenders by the media have been movingly portrayed in the documentary Let the Butterflies Fly by film maker Gopal Menon.

 

"The bias against transgenders is alive and well, judging by a recent TV9 Kannada programme titled “Operation Anandi”."

 

The bias against transgenders is alive and well, judging by a recent TV9 Kannada programme titled “Operation Anandi”. It not only alleged that a transwoman called Anandi and a few others kidnapped and forcibly castrated a young man but also depicted the transgender community in a derogatory way. TV9 Kannada also used the opportunity to repeat its questionable reports on the 2008 case of Shilpa, Baby and Mangala.

“TV9 is showing its version of my story again after eight years. Are people aware that Bangalore Police physically tortured me? After three months, I rejected my family and the sex change reversal and left home. Is being a mangalamukhi wrong? I do not deserve such a life”, said Shilpa at a press meeting organized by the Karnataka Transgender Samiti (KTS - a collective of transgender persons and sexual minority rights organizations in Karnataka) on 5th October in Bangalore.

 

 Karnataka Transgender Samithi members, mangalamukhis and human rights activists address media at the October 5 press meet in Bengaluru

At the same press conference, Baby narrated her ordeal: “During my incarceration, my parents attempted suicide. A police inspector had coerced me to sign a false confession about my alleged involvement in the 2008 episode. I am also losing the will to live”.

Other stories also emerged at the press conference, such as that of 21 year old mangalamukhi, Riyana, who studies cosmetology and wellness in Bangalore. She spoke of how TV9 Kannada broadcast an interview with her parents on 25th September. ’’My parents were compelled to talk without being informed about the objective and content of the programme. Further, without my consent, TV9 used my name and blurred images but did not interview or contact me. When I visited the TV9 office to question the intent of this programme, I was pushed out by the staff and security guard there,’ said Riyana.

Riyana stressed that she has chosen to be a transwoman, is mentally stable, and can live only with a Mangalamukhi and not with a man or woman. Although she had attempted suicide and was admitted to a government hospital in Bangalore when she was younger, she is now more aware of her body and emotions. Riyana believes that media organizations are being judgmental about her and says that falsehoods about the transgender community affect them badly.

Akkai Padmashali, a member of KTS, an award winning gender and human rights activist, and talented singer, also talked of how the TV9 programme has led to increased police violence against them and greater hostility from neighbours and the general public. Consequent to the telecasting of the programme, the families of many transgender persons have been harassing them and landlords have told them to get out of their homes and offices.

 

"TV9’s repeated broadcast of the programme amounts to contempt of court as it relates to a case that is sub-judice. It is a trial by media which a civilized society cannot accept. "

 

“Six transgender persons are in jail because of incidents related to Operation Anandi but they are innocent until proven guilty by law. TV9’s repeated broadcast of the programme amounts to contempt of court as it relates to a case that is sub-judice. It is a trial by media which a civilized society cannot accept,’ said Vinay Sreenivasa from the Alternative Law Forum.  

Although sting operations are not rare, using a “spy camera” in a case like this violates the right to privacy, the Code of Ethics, and broadcasting standards, said Sreenivasa. The News Broadcasting Standards Authority, after receiving complaints from a TV9 programmed called Gay Culture Rampant in Hyderabad in 2011, passed an order against such programming.

The Press Council of India has recognized the right to privacy of an accused person. Invading the privacy of an already marginalized community does not serve any purpose. Further, as Sreenivasa points out, what is the point of repeatedly telecasting a programme about people who have already been proved innocent and how does it serve the public interest?

A TV9 Kannada reporter has argued that the channel has aired positive stories about the transgender community and that a few transgender persons are just ‘’troublemakers’. Veena S, a member of KTS, who was also the first transwoman in southern India to run for public office when she contested the Bangalore municipal council elections in 2010, agreed that TV9 had shown them in a positive light in the past but was dismayed that Operation Anandi had reintroduced fear into the community.

Sowmya Shri, a gender minority rights activist, said: “Although TV9 has supposedly portrayed only a few transgender persons negatively, even seasoned activists are being mocked in public”

Activists like Shri say that some of the achievements of transgenders during the past 20 years in gaining social acceptance have been have been punctured over the last few days by TV9’s Operation Anandi. Appealing for media respect for transgenders, Akkai said: “Judge not, respect gender identity. Judge not, support sexual diversity”.

 

Pushpa Achanta is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist, trainer and writer on social justice and human rights issues.

 

 

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