Loud, sensational promos hauled me into watching a certain dramaturgy on television. Prominent disclaimers notwithstanding, it is shocking to find such lurid serials, unconscionably bereft of social and moral responsibility, grossly violating human rights on many accounts on air, and easily accessible to millions of viewers.
The story portrays a character of the third gender — scion of an affluent family, who is so obsessed with keeping his gender identity a secret that he murders whoever suspects his reality and marries a visually impaired girl with the intention of hoodwinking her into having relations with a mutual friend in order to beget an heir. All this is to provide proof of his own virility to the world. When the plan fails, this person gets his uncle to forcibly try and impregnate her. Needless to say, he inflicts inhuman torture on his wife to get his way. All this, pray, in an apparent bid to avoid social ostracism.
The serial makers don't seem to have heard of sex-reconstruction surgery or artificial insemination, though the setting is so obviously contemporary.
Going by what powerful influence the electronic media has on the masses, such soaps which are a switch of the button away could have hazardous repercussions on society.
At a sensitive juncture when the differently gendered are gradually being integrated into the mainstream, shows depicting even one such individual in a negative light could prove detrimental to the community as a whole. These people have been championing the cause of a life of quality and dignity like that of any other human being for generations. After intensive campaigning by transgender activists, especially in Tamil Nadu, certain strides have been made — notably the acknowledgement of the third sex in passport application forms, voter identity cards, the ‘T' provision apart from the usual ‘M' and ‘F' in ration cards in Tamil Nadu and, most recently, reservation in certain educational institutions.
Laypersons who may be broad enough to accept sexual minorities in the spheres they inhabit are at the risk of reverting to their original prejudices by such an offensive portrayal, thereby once again branding the entire community ‘bad'. Except for a chosen few who work as hairdressers, masseurs, etc., and a handful who may be getting degrees, people of the third gender are forced to resort to begging or prostitution to earn their livelihood. Painting an unflattering picture of them might ensure they stay marginalised forever, totally nullifying the earnest efforts of activists.
Women with disabilities, such as the visually impaired lead in this one, may come across to the general public as vulnerable targets that can be ruthlessly exploited. It is unusual for viewers to look at the larger picture and appreciate what such women can ultimately do — be it showing bravado, standing on their feet or fighting for their justice. Instead, such shows are more likely to highlight their weakness and give criminals ideas of how women can be made targets of atrocities.
I have illustrated this serial as a case in point because of its especial coarseness. There are others in equally poor taste; brazenly showcasing (propagating?) casteism, child marriage and superstition, ostensibly spreading awareness. In the name of Indian tradition, married women (always decked in garish saris and jewellery), perpetually quarantined in kitchens, seem to have no agenda other than pleasing their menfolk. The unmarried ones nurture no dreams other than matrimony.
As my mother reminisces and applauds the socially relevant ‘Hum Log' and the highly inspirational ‘Udaan' of the 1980s, I fervently look forward to the day such serials are made once again.
(The writer's email is: lasyashashimohan@ yahoo.com)