On 15th march the Apex court of India agreed to hear a man’s plea where he accused his wife of cheating under the section 420 of Indian penal code. The man claimed that by not informing him about the exact state of her genitals she had tricked him into marriage. The man’s lawyer senior advocate NK Mody said in his arguments that the woman was not a woman but a man.
As soon as the news broke Indian media flooded with sensationalist headlines about the woman in question and her genitals. Several headlines specifically spoke about her having a penis. This obviously led to a very transphobic flood of comments over social media. People had all sorts of reaction from making memes about the case to crying literal murder over it.
Something that stayed out of discourse completely was that the wife had also filed a case against the husband for cruelty and alleged that he had been trying to extort more dowry out of her family. I went through close to 50 headlines on the matter and found that none of the headlines spoke about this issue. The headlines put all the spotlight on the man’s claims. This cheap attempt at sensationalism by the media is not new. I went back and analysed headlines as far back as 2016 and found that in all such cases the focus of the headline remained the woman’s genitals. We found that there have been at least 5 major incidents like this in the past and in 3 of these cases the women had filed FIRs alleging things as serious domestic violence against their husbands but these aspects of the case never made it to headlines.
In most articles the allegations do not even appear. In this case for example the allegations either don’t appear or appear in the very last paragraph of the report. As if the domestic violence allegations aren’t serious complaints of abuse at all. They seem to be an afterthought for the reporter. An interesting piece to note is the Hindustan Times article which goes on for at least 6 paragraphs about the man’s allegations and his lawyer’s arguments and only gives one paragraph at the end to the woman’s allegations.
This style of reporting is extremely transphobic and it displays the reporter’s lack of empathy towards individuals who stray away from cishet norms. Their complaints don’t solicit the same thorough level of analysis that the cishetnormative person’s complaints do. Add to this the fact that the headline itself fetishises and perversely fixates upon the individual’s private organs in order to generate a social media buzz.
This becomes even more problematic when you take into account the fact that none of the cases we mention above were followed up on. The only report that appears on these issues is the initial report of the man’s allegations. It’s as if the only time that this news matters is when it can be used to generate traffic online. The result of these cases are irrelevant because the publication has already accomplished what it wants from the case.
This is yet another example of what happens when there is no representation of queer people in the newsroom. Stories like these become fodder for a public spectacle. They are not treated as stories about real human beings that deserve nuanced conversation.