Homosexuality is legal in about 125 countries, not 25 as Indian Media had us believe.

Earlier today, India decriminalized homosexuality. In a fitting judgement, the Supreme Court rightly stated that “history owes the LGBT community an apology”. Euphoria on twitter and in Indian media followed, since the verdict was as anticipated.

As part of the celebrations, one news item got this “history” horribly wrong. The headline (and the text) read that “As SC decriminalises gay sex, India joins 25 nations where homosexuality is legal”. This is incorrect and misleading.

As the article itself mentions, homosexuality is illegal in only about 72 countries. There are about 197 countries in the world (if you consider Palestine and Taiwan as countries which I do). That means homosexuality isn’t a crime in 125 countries.

The 25 countries they mention is where same sex marriages are legally recognized. The article mentions

some of these [25] countries where gay sex has been legalised are: “Argentina (2010), Greenland (2015), South Africa (2006), Australia (2017), Iceland(2010), Spain (2005), Belgium (2003), Ireland(2015), United States (2015),Brazil (2013), Luxemborg (2014), Sweden (2009) and Canada (2005).”

The dates in parentheses are actually the year in which these countries began to recognize (and perform) same sex marriages. Most of these countries had decriminalized homosexuality decades ago.

I consider this a serious error for two reasons.

First it reflects on how due process is ignored in contemporary news cycles. This story was a PTI (Press Trust of India) release and many news outlets (including Times of India, world’s largest English language daily by circulation) have reproduced it without checking for serious and consequential (yes) factual errors.

Second, while we celebrate the decriminalization of homosexuality in world’s largest democracy, this incorrect fact undermines the importance of this judgement. India is a very late in recognizing LGBTQ rights. Until 2018 it belonged to a dark club of 72 countries, largely comprising of former British colonies and a few islamic states that haven’t fixed this draconian Victorian era law (section 377 in the Indian Penal Code). With today’s verdict, India has stepped outside the dark, but is nowhere close to these 25 countries (which the news media equates India with) when it comes to rights of people in same sex partnerships. Further, it is also behind at least a dozen other countries, which recognize same sex unions as civil partnerships including the United Kingdom. Yet such coverage would have us believe otherwise.

Legal challenges aside, the LGBTQ movement in India has to overcome a lot of social prejudice. One such social prejudice sees homosexuality as a Western or First World phenomenon (which it isn’t), and an undesirable external influence on Indian culture. Perhaps coverage like this also misleads in that regard.

I hope this incorrect story is retracted or updated to correct this serious error. And steer the LGBTQ movement in India to its next steps.

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Responding to Arvind Kejriwal: News Broadcasters Contradict Themselves

Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party has a knack for hitting the headlines. Usually it is because media love to provide airtime and space to someone who can call others names and Arvind dosen’t mince his words, except when his cough takes over. And true to his style, his recent tirade was against the media themselves .This put the media in a fix.

Although a small “evolved” section of the media , saw nothing extraordinary or alarming in the allegations, the “rank and file” of the media took exception and has decided to react more strongly. In a statement, The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has issued a warning to the Aam Aadmi Party to exercise restraint.  Here’s an excerpt from an article reporting on this:

NBA reminded Kejriwal and his associates that the electronic media is independent and discharging its responsibilities in a fair, transparent and balanced manner and asked the AAP not to hurl “unsubstantiated and unverified charges” on the electronic media

Curiously the statement goes on to say,

NBA requests the convenor of AAP to “immediately refrain” from making such preposterous allegations failing which NBA members would be forced to reconsider coverage of the activities of  the AAP (underline added).

The suggestion here implies that the decision to cover activities of a political party is based on the party’s favorable view of the news media in the first place. Doesn’t the media contradict itself, it’ s own core principles here? The News Broadcaster Association in other words has justified its own criticism.