By Abhinita Mohanty:
So, the photo shoot of the year made a buzz in the social media! No, it’s not vogue fashion photography with a ‘hottie’ model with ‘to die for body’ doing the rounds or the bikini clad Kingfisher Calendar in exotic place making your eyes glued on them. It’s only the simple photo of a ‘not so oomph’ man claiming that he is not a criminal that managed to catch all attention among our ‘glamour obsessed’ masses.
As a reaction to the criminalization of IPC 377, Vikram Seth and India Today jointly reacted by portraying Seth as a criminal with the placard saying ‘Not A Criminal’. The cover picture has earned the magazine a lot of kudos. There might have been a spur in the sales too and it would not be incorrect to mention that it was a marketing strategy, made at the tight time! But it will be a gross mistake to label it as a ‘marketing gimmick’. Although no prosecution has been made under this law since years, yet the very reason of its existence criminalizes 2 million people and makes them live with fear. This photo has given the LGBTQI community their poster boy and a face to their struggle. This has, no doubt, at least symbolically boosted the morale of the LGBTQI community. But will this actually help them? Was it proper to make Vikram Seth the sole face of the fight? To understand all these we need to look at the person involved here.
The celebrated author is bisexual in orientation and has always been ‘allergic to any crusade’, as India Today says. Seth has been a known recluse in taking up any crusade regarding the matter and he took a long time to come out of the closet, at least publicly. His mother too claims that it actually came when he was 30! The author answers by saying that he is a writer and cannot take up crusades and homosexuality is evident in his writing and the characters in his novels. It’s clear that Seth has not actually gone onto the streets being the leader of the masses and he never intended to do that too. Personally, I respect his individual choice. But there is one thing that can be clearly seen in Seth’s acceptance to do this photo shoot for India Today. The reason can be (perhaps) to steal all the lime light at the right time. My opinion is tentative but the larger unfolding of events has led to this conclusion. In 2009, when the Delhi High Court favoured the LGBTQI by decriminalizing it, Seth immediately came up on NDTV in Barkha Dutt’s show to express his satisfaction and opine himself. Although he did campaign on IPC 377 in 2006, prior to that he never actually participated in the process of this struggle, even when he did mention it in interviews, he talked about it more in a personal way.
After the 2009 verdict, he should not have, at least, stolen all the limelight. The unknown LGBTQI out there who had fought longer and harder and are ordinary, deserved better. The media too, instead of making Seth their sole person to talk to, should have sought lesser known but equally competent people who were a part of this movement. There are many LGBTQI people who face greater threats from this law than an elite like Seth, who can easily live the life he wants. In 2013, Seth again did a photo shoot withÂ ‘India Today’ with a melodramatic ‘criminal stubble and dress’. I am not interested in exploring his intention behind doing this photo shoot, but given his prior fame, he can be accused of stealing the show again all for himself at the right opportunity.
The photo is not the problem here, it is indeed a bold move by the magazine. But by choosing an elite face in front of the camera, the magazine has led to a fallacious public assumption that ‘he is the hero in the fight’. Would it have made any difference if someone equally well known in the LGBTQI circle would have been that face on the cover picture? Why not make a real crusader and leader of LGBT a hero rather than ‘eliticising’ the issue? It would have made much difference to publish the photo of such a person, along with their interview and experiences. By portraying a celebrity about whom we all know, will we not only deny others their rightful place in their fight for rights but it will also stop us from learning more about this movement, knowing about the ordinary leaders and looking beyond the ‘charm of a celebrity face’.