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Talk Show Inspires 1 Million+ Callers to Protest India's Anti-Gay Law

Screenshot of the Indian talk show "Satyamev Jayate"

Screenshot of the Indian talk show “Satyamev Jayate” hosted by Aamir Khan

A recent episode of an Indian talk show aired to more than 100 million viewers has had a massive impact on the country's perception of LGBT people. More than one million calls were made to a toll free hotline set up by the show to protest Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which stigmatises the LGBT community by criminalising homosexual sex.

On 19 October, an episode of Indian television talk show “Satyamev Jayate” (Truth Alone Prevails) titled “Accepting Alternative Sexualities” attempted to break a lot of misconceptions surrounding the ostracised LGBT community by answering a number of questions on the issue.

The guests included transgender woman Gazal Dhaliwal (@gazalstune) and her parents, popular psychologist Deepak Kashyap and other LGBT activists. Dhaliwal, a film writer, described her traumatic childhood as a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and her journey from self-discovery to the decision to undergo a sex change operation.

Later Dhaliwal engaged in a live Twitter chat with the audience.

The show talked about how ordinary Indian households are dealing with the LGBT issue. It showed a traditional grandmother who admitted to dancing on her gay grandson’s engagement ceremony.

Soon, the hashtag #FreedomForLGBT became the top trending topic globally on Twitter:

Gay sex is illegal under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (adopted into the Indian Constitution by the Imperial British empire in 1861). Four years ago in a landmark judgement, the Delhi High Court overturned the section, but India's top court reversed the Delhi High Court order in December 2013. The court said it was up to parliament to legislate on the issue.

Protests against the reinstitution of Section 377 are ongoing across India, and the issue was a hot-button one during this year's general election. The ruling Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) supported the law during the election. BJP, however, indicated in August that the Supreme Court was currently hearing a curative petition on the matter and that the government had no plans to take up the matter of amending Section 377 until the Supreme Court gave its ruling.

The show, hosted by Bollywood megastar Amir Khan, took a bold step in voicing the plights of the LGBT community and protesting the law. Its website stated:

Today all of us have to be involved in the struggle against the discrimination and torture faced by the LGBT community. The biggest obstacle to equality for the LGBT community comes from the law. To our eternal shame, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code still criminalizes homosexuality even among consenting adults calling it ‘against the order of nature’ and punishes such acts for a term which may extend to 10 years. This law is a blot on modern India and must be amended.

“Satyamev Jayate,” which is hugely popular, has taken on different social issues not often talked about among conservative circles in the country in the past. The third season is being simulcast on eight channels with a special live segment titled “Mumkin Hai” on two more channels, topping an aggregate reach of 126 million.

The website also commented that more important than the law is the need for society's attitudes towards the LGBT community need to change, and the change should start in ordinary homes. So it listed more videos and articles about a few other aspects of LGBT living in India: parental support, forced marriages, and the occlusion of work spaces for the hijra community, among others.

Many appreciated Aamir Khan's contribution and sent videos thanking him:

Of course, not everyone agreed. There were also many responses from people who support Section 377 and reject the LGBT community.

The stories in the episode were heartwarming, but it remains to be seen whether they have inspired enough people to actively push for the rights of LGBT people in India.

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