As I sit down to write this, we are gearing up to celebrate from International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHoBiT) and the circumstances which have led me to write this couldn’t have been more ironical. In the last few years, especially after the Supreme Court read down Section 377 once and for all, buoyed by all the media coverage and probably a result of my own echo chambers, I had started to believe that things in India are improving, people are becoming more accepting and understanding of gender issues and homosexuality. But boy I have been jolted out of my illusion, and how!
It all started with a video of a supposed “roast” that one very famous Youtuber called CarryMinati (real name Ajey Nagar) posted, where he was making fun of those making Tik Tok videos, particularly a guy named Amir Siddiqui. While CarryMinati “roasted” Amir Siddiqui, he made it clear that things he was saying stood true for all TikTokers. And how exactly did he “roast” Mr. Siddiqui? By constantly referring to him as “beti”, calling him “meetha”, and at times threatening to rape him/sexually assault him. I have just listed some of the major points from his video. The actual words and slurs he uses are even more horrific. But he is not the only one who who constantly refers to those making Tik Tok videos as “chakka”, “meetha” or “gay”.
Youtube finally took down the video (after people from the LGBT community started mass reporting the video), but not before it had garnered 10 Million likes and over 70 million views, and inspired countless other Youtubers to make similar homophobic cringe-worthy videos. But while this particular video might have caught the community’s attention, if you go through the various videos in CarryMinati’s channels, you would find many of them homophobic. Sample these: In a video titled TIKTOK EVOLUTION 2019, at around 4:42, he shows a clip of a very young crossdressed boy (hardly 12-13yrs old), and calls him by vulgar names (that I refrain from writing here), in the same video at 3:10, after showing a clip on friendship by Tik Tok start Faizu, he shows a picture of two men kissing and makes obscene gestures with his hands. Another video about social media star Deepak Kalal, who plays an effeminate character in his videos, is titled Discovery of a “New Creature”. Almost all the videos on his channel have more than a million views.
What CarryMinati and people like him don’t realise and understand is that there is nothing wrong in being gay, or transgender, or non-binary, and that people like him normalise bullying and harassment of LGBTQ individuals in the society through such videos, forcing many people to either live closeted lives, or in some cases, to end their lives. LGBTQ people are often called names because they defy the societal notions of gender and masculinity. For this, they are many a times subjected to sexual assault and violence by friends, strangers and their own family members. CarryMinati openly making similar sexual assault threats [andar se khol ke bajaa denge (I will rip you open and fuck you)] in his video to Amir Siddiqui because of his perceived “lack of manliness”, not only propagates rape culture, it also gives out an impression that sexual assault of gender non-conforming people is OK. His attempts to demean Amir through homophobic slurs is not just triggering for LGBTQ individuals, but it also normalises such behaviour given the vast reach that his channel commands. Imagine how the millions of people watching his videos are probably internalising such homophobia and learning to use these slurs against gender non-conforming people, and how many more LGBTQ people are being pushed into the closet because of him. That CarryMinati thinks it is funny to call someone by feminine pronouns, and the millions of his supporters agreeing to it, is part of the problem that we have been fighting for decades now. As Anwesh Sahoo wrote in his piece, “Perhaps you never met someone who could tell you why your words could hurt a world where homosexuality, being trans, or for that matter being queer is someone’s reality. A reality that has taken us ages to come to terms to, having lived and endured a life of shame and guilt for simply being.”
CarryMinati’s toxic masculinity makes him believe that women are inferior to men, and hence he constantly refers to Amir as “beti” to insult him. His videos are filled with expletives that target women, and the millions of his followers (many of whom are of young impressionable age) are constantly learning to demean not just LGBTQ individuals, but also women through his videos. As this video points out, scores of people idolize him, and would thus be imitating him in an attempt to look cool and be like him. Gender based violence and crimes against women in India are reported on a daily basis, and people like him are actively contributing to making it worse. And it is not just him, but almost all major Youtube “influencers” from Bhuvan Bam to Ashish Chanchalani have expressed their support for him, indicating how behind the mask of their “wokeness” lies deep seated homophobia and misogyny that they even refuse to acknowledge.
But it is not just people like CarryMinati that need to be held accountable for vitiating the environment and polluting young mind with homophobic slurs. Platforms like YouTube need to be held accountable too. While Google, the parent company that owns Youtube, leaves no stone unturned to portray itself as “gay friendly” and participates in pride marches and events and changes it logos to rainbow in pride month, it actively colludes and rewards homophobic people like CarryMinati. Youtube has awarded CarryMinati with 5 of its awards and also called him to the various events that it regularly organises. What’s worse, the video remained on the platform for full 6 days, and was removed only on 14th May after multiple LGBTQ people and platforms spoke against it. In these 6 days, it was quickly on its way to become the most watched and like video on Youtube India.
Youtube incentivises people who make videos that fetch views through money, and this in turn brings Google the ad revenues. Estimates on the internet put that CarryMinati earns anywhere between $8K – $130K per month from his channel. So Youtube pays him anywhere between Rs 6Lakhs to Rs 11 Crores a month! It is no wonder then that at the end of each of his videos, CarryMinati begs for views from his subscribers and sets them a target and doesn’t mind his language or words as long as they fetch him views.
Thus, not only has Youtube provided him a platform, it is actually paying him large sums of money to dish out such cringe worthy misogynist, homophobic videos that it takes a week to remove. And this incentivising of the hate is not limited to CarryMinati alone. Multiple other Youtube channels (like Lakshay Chaudhary) who regularly dish out homophobia in their videos are awarded by Youtube, and are in fact paid for it! What’s worse, multiple Youtube channels have since uploaded the same video, and Youtube hasn’t taken them down. Yes, the same Youtube which within seconds is able to identify uploaded videos for copyright infringement and act against them immediately. Despite its lofty promises, Youtube’s record on LGBTQ issues has been questioned previously too.
The most disturbing thing in all of this is that over 10 Million people liked the video and gave their active consent to the queerphobia and that 6 million subscribed to his channel within 24 hours. When the video was finally taken down, scores of people trended #JusticeForCarry on twitter. At a time when the country has been beseeched by Corona Virus problem, when poor migrants have been walking thousand of kilometres, these people thought the one person who needed justice in India was CarryMinati!
This whole episode is a timely reminder of how deeply ingrained homophobia in Indian society still remains. That even after decades of fighting for LGBTQ rights, and some major wins like the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India, attitudes amongst people have hardly changed, and they think it is perfectly fine to use slurs and abuses for anyone who is non-cis and non-hetero. Further, this is not restricted to older generation, but as the whole CarryMinati episode shows, is prevalent in the younger lot too, the one which is supposedly more “understanding and accepting”. We also need to hold these corporations who pride themselves in being “LGBT friendly” and sit on many of the LGBTQ Panels accountable for the various ways in which they actively promote and encourage homophobic content. IDAHOBIT would be a good day to sit down and think how do we dismantle these patriarchal notions around masculinity and gender conformity.