The episode was released on on October 31, and revolved around shaming a 20-year-old woman and a 23-year-old trans man who said they wanted to marry each other. At one point, she said: “Aren’t you ashamed for staying with another girl? I will thrash you and break your legs for doing this.”
In addition to threatening physical violence, the host also asked invasive questions about how the couple had sex, much to the shock of many watching the show.
Noted LGBTQ-rights activist and filmmaker Nakshatra Bagwe responded to the episode via Twitter:
Need instant apology @zeetelugu
Telugu TV show humiliates LGBTQ couple, threatens to hit, thrash them on air https://t.co/Zf27gESnAB
— Nakshatra Bagwe (@NakshatraBagwe) November 6, 2016
And many others also strongly condemned it:
— Siddhu Manchikanti (@SidManchikanti) November 6, 2016
@zeetelugu jus aired horrific homophobic talk show on national television. Small minded anchor abusing a lesbian couple – Sick!
— Purushu Arie (@purushuarie) October 31, 2016
Am shocked at the insensitivity displayed by an anchor of a reality show towards a lesbian couple – shaming them repeatedly 1/2 @zeetelugu
— Geetha (@geetmh) October 31, 2016
While it was great to see several people speaking up about this, several of them referred to the two guests as a “lesbian couple,” while only one of them identified as a woman. Some of this is likely due to the fact that the host continued to misgender the young trans man, managing to be both homophobic and transphobic at the same time.
While show has been advertised as “socially responsive,” this episode was everything but. And the most disturbing bit was the host insisting that the couple’s families should “correct” them.
In India, the sword of corrective measures hovers over every LGBTQ-identified person’s head. Various Patanjali clinics (run by the notoriously homophobic Baba Ramdev) set the precedent by promising to “cure” queer people of their queerness. And in a country where many still view same-sex attraction as a mental or physical illness, reports of corrective rape are not uncommon.
Families in India often respond negatively to non-cisgender, or non-heterosexual children, either by refusing to accept their identities, or taking them to special doctors, or outright disowning them. And if this is the script presented to us by an oppressive heteronormativity, then “Bathuku Jataka Bandi” follows it to the T.
From the moment the host made clear her personal biases against queer people, she became an arbitrator for the kinds of violence that families commit – whether it is restricting a person’s movement, or straight up physical abuse.
Seeing this behaviour staged on a widely watched television network only confirms the fear many LGBTQ Indians have – that they cannot look to their families for support. It is this same fear that prevents many gay men in India from coming out to their parents, which leaves them without adequate support, and vulnerable to homophobic violence, as well as mental and physical health issues.
What happened on the Zee Telugu show was undoubtedly unprofessional and irresponsible, but the impact that it will have on queer and straight audiences alike should not be underestimated. And an apology from the host or channel will simply not be enough to correct decades upon decades of violent discrimination.