Thank you, Aamir Khan, for a Satyamev Jayate episode that brought gay pride into our homes

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Delhi: Over its past two seasons, Satyamev Jayate has established itself as a weepy. It doesn’t matter what the topic of discussion may be, host Aamir Khan will cry and invariably, his guests will make you feel teary even if you want to roll your eyes at them.

Yesterday, however, there were barely any sniffles, but there was laughter, delight and a whole lot of pride. At the start of the episode, Khan told the television-watching audience that the topic of conversation this week might be considered unsuitable for children by some. Those who feel that way should pack their kids off into another room. Khan was very clear about his own personal opinion: any child over the age of 10 should watch this programme.

Satyamev Jayate devoted an hour upon alternative sexuality on Sunday morning. It was well-researched, sensitively presented, occasionally hilarious — like when Deepak from Ajmer said, “In Ajmer, dates aren’t like what dates are in Mumbai” — and deeply poignant. Satyamev Jayate declares in its advertisements that it has changed the way people think. This episode on queer identity may well live up to those lofty claims and we can only hope that it does, because Satyamev Jayate did something radical: it presented queer identity as something normal. Because news flash: normal is exactly what it is to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or straight.

As psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria put it to Khan, “If I asked you today to not look at women, but consider men sexually, would you be able to do it?” Khan said he wouldn’t. “Then why expect that of a [homosexual] boy or girl?” she asked. Khan also did the nation a favour by clearing another prevalent misconception: yoga cannot change your sexual preferences.

Khan also spoke to Anjali Gopalan of Naaz Foundation and lawyer-activist Gautam Bhan on the debate of Section 377. He didn’t just stop at letting Gopalan and Bhan do most of the talking. “We’ve got to raise our voices against it,” said Khan, after Bhan, with his characteristic eloquence, listed how Section 377 violates the fundamental rights promised by the Constitution to every Indian.

What made for particularly good television was that the audience was made up of people who aren’t radical or unusually liberal. People said quite bluntly that they’d be uncomfortable at the thought of their children being homosexual. One man said he’d try to convince his child of “turning” heterosexual. A woman said that it would be devastating for her. Someone asked Chhabria if homosexuality is contagious (it isn’t). This episode of Satyamev Jayate wasn’t about preaching to the choir. It really was about raising awareness, and in a way that (for once) didn’t feel like a lecture.

The program touched upon a number of critically important issues, like the fact that coming out is a decision that people take years debating before actually taking that big step. The support that parents need to provide their children was stressed repeatedly, both by Chhabria as well as Ghazal, who was the first guest on the programme.

Ghazal is a screenwriter who works in Mumbai. In her childhood photos, she is a little sardar boy, patka in place. Her earliest memories were of realising that she was trapped in the wrong body. She confided in her parents and although it came as a shock to them, they’ve been her strongest supporters. They were the ones who encouraged her to undergo a sex-change operation. They went around their neighbourhood in Patiala, telling everyone from neighbours to extended family that Ghazal would be a woman soon. When Khan asked Ghazal’s mother how she’d felt when she realised her son wanted to be a woman, Ghazal’s mother said, “I felt terrible that god was making my child suffer like this.” She, like the rest of Ghazal’s family, are very proud of Ghazal and everything she has achieved today.

Satyamev Jayate also reminded viewers that parental support can come from unexpected places. For instance, when after 10 years of marriage, Divya and her husband decided to opt for divorce because Divya realised she was lesbian, her parents couldn’t accept this. Divya’s mother in-law, on the other hand, told Divya that Divya would always remain a daughter to her. Three cheers for families of choice!

It wasn’t only happiness on the show. Simran, who was born a boy and is now a hijra, left home at the age of 14 because her family couldn’t understand the difficulty of a confused gender identity. She found kindness from a hijra who introduced her to their society. Simran had to beg, she was forced to try sex work and all this as a teenager. She ultimately found a job as a dancer at a dance bar. At 17, she returned to college and had to request “customers” to pose as her parents. She continued to work as a bar dancer at night, while studying during the day. After graduating, she started working with NGOs on HIV awareness.

As Simran pointed out, a hijra is a person who belongs to a tradition and a society; not an abnormality. She has a guru and a community that has become her family of choice. There is stigma faced by the hijra community and this has as much to do with mainstream society’s narrow-mindedness. If you think hijras harass you, keep in mind that they cannot usually get “regular” jobs even though the Supreme Court has recognised transgender as a third gender.

Activists, serious issues, medical expertise, anecdotes — the episode was a smartly-put together package on alternative sexuality. Even the saddest stories ended with smiles and Khan didn’t have to shed a single tear during the hour-long episode. You couldn’t have had a more emphatic assertion that being gay, lesbian or transgender isn’t something to shed tears over. Everyone on the show was witty, insightful, honest and ultimately triumphant.

Thank you, Aamir Khan and the guests who came on Satyamev Jayate, for bringing pride into our homes and hearts.

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