The Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi, a political party founded by Maharashtra politician Prakash Ambedkar, has accused news channel TV9 Marathi of discriminating against their spokesperson Disha Shaikh because of her transgender identity.

In a Facebook post on Monday, the party claimed that the day before the news channel invited Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi to send a spokesperson to their studio in Mumbai to participate in a discussion on exit poll projections. The party agreed to send Shaikh but TV9 Marathi allegedly rescinded her invitation after finding out she is a transgender woman.

While the channel told Shaikh that the live studio discussion had been cancelled, the show was eventually aired at 8 pm as scheduled. The channel replaced Shaikh with another representative of the political party who was at the studio for a show that went on air the hour before.

The party alleged this was an act of discrimination and demanded an official and public apology from TV9 Marathi. “It appears that TV9 Marathi does not believe that someone from the LGBT community can have an understanding of politics,” the Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi said on Facebook. “We demand a public apology from TV9 on their channel for this.”

The news channel has not issued any statement on the matter but its political editor Vilas Athavale told Scroll.in that his Facebook post on Monday was the channel’s official position. In the post, Athavale denied the allegations and claimed TV9 provides “opportunities to all parties in a transparent manner”. He said scheduled programmes often have to be cancelled because of news events. “The channel does not have an allergy against anyone,” he told Scroll.in. “We would never do something like this.”

Conflicting versions

Disha Shaikh, however, claimed that representatives of TV9 Marathi have been citing conflicting reasons for rescinding her invitation. According to the Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi spokesperson, TV9 Marathi had planned to air three hour-long shows on the exit polls from 7 pm to 10 pm. For each slot, the channel had invited a different representative of the party.

At around 2.30 pm, a TV9 coordinator named Mukhtar called her to confirm her participation in the show and discuss the logistics of her travel to the studio. “During the call, he must have felt that my voice sounded like a man’s voice, and told me that my name sounded like that of a woman,” Shaikh told Scroll.in. “I said yes, I am a woman – a transgender woman.”

Within 10 minutes, the coordinator sent a message to staff member of the Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi, asking for a replacement, the spokesperson claimed. When the staff member turned down the request, Mukhtar messaged to say that the channel had dropped the 8 pm show since they needed to air live feeds from other sources, Shaikh added.

The text messages that TV9 Marathi's coordinator sent to Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi's staff member (left) and to its spokerson Disha Shaikh on May 19.
The text messages that TV9 Marathi's coordinator sent to Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi's staff member (left) and to its spokerson Disha Shaikh on May 19.

Apology from an employee

On Monday, the Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi sent a letter to the news channel, questioning its actions. However, the party received no response. Siddharth Mokale, the party’s Aurangabad spokesperson, asked the channel about the alleged discrimination faced by Shaikh when he was invited to a political discussion at 5 pm.

“The anchor told him that they did not have space to accommodate me because they already had two of our party representatives in the studio that day,” said Shaikh. “But this is totally different from what Mukhtar told me.”

Soon after, Mukhtar reportedly called up Shaikh and apologised. “While saying sorry, he gave two reasons for cancelling on me,” she added. “First, he said that he assumed that ‘TV9 pe ye sab nahi chalega [all this will not do on TV9]’.” Shaikh believes this was a reference to her gender identity. “Then he said that the show had place for only six people, so he had lied to me and told me that the show had been cancelled so that I would not feel bad.”

The Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi leader accused TV9 of unfairly using Mukhtar as a scapegoat by “making him apologise”. “He is a junior staff member and was only in charge of coordinating my transport – he would not be in charge of making editorial decisions,” Shaikh added. “TV9 needs to officially apologise to me and the LGBT community.”