I Am a Queer Journalist. This is How I Felt Inside A Newsroom on Section 377 Verdict Day
Welcome to the humdrum routine of an LGBTQ-identifying journalist on judgement day.
A News18 Creative.
“Bhaiya, OTP?” my cab driver questions me with an air of studied nonchalance as I hurriedly get into the car, my eyes firmly fixated at my phone’s screen, scrolling through a particular hashtag on Twitter. Sure enough, I catch my grandmother mutter some illegible sentence about me skipping breakfast. It is a normal day, except that it is not.
It’s the judgment day. The verdict on Section 377 comes out today. As I scroll through the #Section377 hashtag on Twitter, most of the tweets sing along the lines of “Oh, so hopeful for the 377 verdict” but the customary banter surrounding Karan Johar’s sexuality, and even “Good news for Rahul Gandhi. He can finally come out tomorrow” greets me. And as anticipated (and often ignored), there are the “Why is SC focused on a ‘western fad’ when India has its own share of problems?” For an Indian LGBTQ individual, it has been the accepted chronology of reactions.
My animated nervousness makes my heart thud loudly in the car. Living in India, an LGBTQ individual learns to adapt to depressing news at the drop of their rainbow hat. With just the news of the Supreme Court announcing the verdict on Section 377 (broken to me while I was doing my balancing act on an e-rickshaw), the LGBT community, rightfully hopeful for once, was wrapped in jubilation even before the verdict officially came out. But the errant pessimist in me conveniently starts to wonder, “Aren't they happy too soon?”
At 7:52 am the newsroom is shrouded in silence before the pandemonium hit everyone in another three hours. The channel is already playing flashes of Section 377 verdict. They appear blurry from where I sit but it’s not rocket science if you can make out the rainbow.
Finishing a quick copy, I start posting the breaking news from the Section 377 live blog. Nothing has begun yet so it’s mostly stuff from the July hearing. And then it hits me -- I’ll get to know the verdict moments before everyone else does and my heart pounds a little harder. “What if it’s bad news? I don’t want to tweet it out,” I say to myself.
The WhatsApp notifications, constant buzzing with reporters present at the Supreme Court, read that the verdict has been delayed to 11-something a.m. I sigh. Well, I've waited all these years, might as well kill another hour.
At 11:24 am the notifications on my phone scream, "JUDGEMENT AT 11:30. JUDGES ARRIVING ANYTIME." A reporter is already on air and reporting LIVE. My heart is repeating the monotonous thuds as I update the Twitter feed with the LIVE blog update. "Catch LIVE updates here..." I type, wondering if the LIVE blog will also feature an update that one of their employees broke down in the middle of a loud, chaotic newsroom.
And lo and behold, a series of notifications buzz on the phone -- "CJI DIPAK MISRA READS THE FIRST JUDGEMENT", "PREJUDICE AND SOCIAL STIGMA STILL AFFECT A CERTAIN SECTION OF SOCIETY", "CONSTITUTIONAL MORALITY CAN'T BE EQUATED WITH POPULAR SENTIMENTS", "LGBT COMMUNITY POSSESSES THE SAME FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AS OTHERS DO", "SECTION 377 CAN'T PUNISH GAY SEX BETWEEN CONSENTING ADULTS". Naturally, I happily ignored the last update like the observant journalist that I am. And then I read it again and again because it had been posted thrice.
I always imagined breaking into my happy dance when Section 377 would get decriminalised. And now it had, except I wasn't breaking into a happy dance. Instead, the mad commotion of the newsroom got out of hand, my heart grew three sizes, and I opened the Twitter tab to update the feed. Needless to say, someone had already updated the feed. "BREAKING -- In a historic judgment, Supreme Court scraps #Section377, makes gay sex legal #GayRightsWin."
While I'm busy shedding a silent tear at my desk, the collective media will now post stories by the dozen on 'my people', neatly dissociating the LGBT community as a disparate establishment, an outcast even, if I can enjoy the luxury of saying it out loud. So much for inclusion and acceptance.
But all that for another day. Today, we celebrate a victory, a consequential win. But we have only stepped onto the pavement of progress. There are 500 miles to walk and many numerous battles to be won. But not today, aaj sab theek hai.
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