How south India’s media is warming up to transgender employees
Kozhikode, Kerala: In 2014, while returning home from work, programme executives at Lotus News, a media house based out of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, witnessed discrimination against transgender people. In a country like India, which houses over 4.8 lakh people from the transgender community, such a situation shouldn’t exist, they felt. They realised that the situation had to change, and they pitched an idea to the Chairman, GK Selvakumar to hire trans people as anchors. This led to the appointment of Padmini Prakash as an anchor on August 15, 2014, the first in India from the transgender community.
With such initiatives, several organisations in the southern states are helping bridge the gap between the community and mainstream media.
Lotus News CEO, N. Saravanan stated that when media houses recruit trans people, discrimination at the workplace decreases and people stop differentiating.
Though a few channels have been criticised for hiring trans people as anchors to boost the TRPs, Saravanan stated that Padmini wasn’t hired for TRP reasons, and if one looked at the numbers, it stayed the same even after she had joined.
When asked if they are hiring more employees from the transgender community, he stated that there’s only one opening, so they will continue with Padmini.
“Our main agenda was to give trans people a new lease on life. If you see, most of them beg on the road and don’t have things easy. To give them a good lifestyle only, we came up with the idea of hiring them,” he highlighted.
Citing an email conversation with Padmini, N. Saravanan told 101Reporters that she looked for jobs within the state, and admitted that most of the transgender journalists are mocked and laughed at.
New lease of life
Not just Lotus News, but even other TV channels have taken steps to uplift trans people. At Jeevan TV, they started a weekly news bulletin, Azhchavattom, which featured transgender people as news anchors.
The news editor and producer of Azhchavattom, Subitha Sukumar stated that they received a number of applications after the show aired, but, they are only selecting a few for a majority lack basic knowledge.
Ayisha Dudle, 27, began news reading at Jeevan TV in 2018 after being assigned by Sukumar. Earlier, she had studied in Maya College of Management and IT in Valapad, and had worked in 14 short films. Ayisha resigned six months ago while fielding multiple offers that resulted in a hectic schedule. Presently, she works as an independent makeup artist, while also acting in Malayalam and Tamil movies. On the show, she has been replaced by Sweety Bernad, another trans woman newsreader.
In 2019, 27-year-old Hrithik Mini became the first trans man newsreader at Jeevan TV. Having studied BBA at University Institute of Technology in Kollam, he worked as an outlet manager but the absence of a trans-friendly workplace led him to resign in 2018.
Inspired by Dudle and Bernad present news bulletins, he joined Jeevan TV in 2019. However, he only works as a part-time employee as he doesn’t have a degree in journalism, and cashes in Rs 2,000 (Rs 1,000 per airing) by the end of the month.
Jeevan TV was the first regional channel to broadcast in English and also the first to offer employment opportunities to the trans community. P J Anthony, the Editor-in-Chief at Jeevan TV, informed that they pay Rs 500 to cis-gender news anchors, while trans people earn Rs 2,000 for news reading twice a month. He explained that since the position is part-time, the salary is low because they don’t have the required qualifications for this job requires a creative mindset.
He also highlighted that though trans inclusive policies were absent when the channel started in 2002, they introduced them when the community started getting noticed by society. He stated that through Azhchavattom, it has helped them create awareness and bridge the gap.
Small steps forward
In Kerala, Kochi-based Kairali TV is one of the latest to join the club of having trans people as journalists.
At 22, Heidi Sadiya, a trans woman, was hired as a news trainee after she reported on India’s second lunar expedition on August 31, 2019.
Before Kairali TV, Heidi had applied to several news channels in the region but was rejected without citing any reason. She told 101Reporters that her colleagues have been extremely supportive and added that the culture at the office is conducive to growth.
The Executive Editor at Kairali TV, Rajeev Edapal, revealed that only a handful of media organisations in Kerala have hired employees from the transgender community.
He added that their selection process is merit-based, and if anyone else from the trans community wants to apply, provided they have qualifications, they too can.
Long way to go
The News Minute (TNM), a Bengaluru-based digital news website, recently posted an opening encouraging candidates from dalit, adivasi, queer and transgender communities to apply.
Ragamalika Karthikeyan, deputy editor at TNM, mentioned that there is a need to do more to ensure diversity in the newsroom. She believes that only a diverse newsroom can bring in fresh and healthy perspectives on news and on society. It is not possible for a wholly upper-caste or a wholly cis-gendered organisation to report sensitively on the issues of marginalised communities.
She highlighted that one of the primary reasons for starting the TNM was because the national news outlets would rarely cover south India, and, “If TNM as an organisation has to cover issues of marginalised communities, it would be wrong for us to think we can do it if, we, as a newsroom are not diverse and representative.”
She stated that while it’s good that several media houses are correcting their hiring practices, as an industry, it needs to go beyond tokenism and ensure that people of all genders get the opportunities they crave and can get the skills they require to do so.
She also pointed out that though every organisation is open to hiring people from all communities, it doesn’t take place in practice. She also highlighted the need for a larger effort to ensure it across the country.
Koninika Roy, Catalyst at the Godrej India Culture Lab, mentioned that though a lot of companies came in support of the LGBTQIA+ community after the decriminalisation of Section 377, very little has changed on the ground.
“Companies still have not done much on-ground work and simply changing their logo to rainbows will not work. The community is smart enough to see through it and they have been doing that,” she added.