Since the launch of its first season in May 2012, Satyamev Jayate, or “Truth Alone Prevails,” has become a centerpiece of the national conversation in India. STAR’s groundbreaking social awareness series, watched by hundreds of millions of viewers, features Bollywood star Aamir Khan in conversation with victims, experts, and activists, discussing some of the country’s most pressing issues. These conversations, streamed digitally and broadcast on multiple STAR channels in six local languages, have affected political action and inspired countless individuals throughout India to come forward and share their stories, making SMJ the premier platform through which Indians discuss social issues.
Aamir Khan was already one of Bollywood’s biggest stars when he began working with STAR CEO Uday Shankar to create Satyamev Jayate. Traditionally, when Bollywood stars of his caliber made the move to television, they would host lighter fare like game shows or dance series. Khan, however, was more interested in dealing with the country’s struggles, including subjects as divisive as sexual assault, the caste system, and LGBT rights. Khan and Shankar understood that creating a show about controversial issues facing India was a major risk. “The traditional understanding of entertainment did not capture that kind of program,” Shankar said. Still, their bet paid off, as SMJ has become one of India’s most successful series. “It is like nothing else on TV that I’m aware of anywhere else in the world,” said journalist Bobby Ghosh during an appearance with Shankar at the Paley Center for Media in New York. “It deals with issues that India has tended to sweep under the carpet. It’s unrelenting and very, very tough. And yet, the success of the show has been astonishing.”
From the project’s earliest days, STAR understood its significance. The network organized plans to simulcast the series over six of its channels in multiple local languages to ensure that as many Indians as possible could see the show. It was also broadcast on India’s public access channel, as well as on the radio, and available online to stream for free. As a result, STAR estimates that nearly 517 million Indians–about 40% of the country–saw SMJ in its first season, and the website received more than 1 billion social media impressions.
SMJ does not just describe the problems facing Indian society; it also proposes solutions. Each episode highlights the work of a relevant nonprofit organization and gathers donations from viewers, and the show’s website serves as a public forum where viewers can share stories of how these issues have affected their lives. The show has become the premier platform for a communal discussion of the country’s social ills.
“We began Satyamev Jayate to build awareness around urgent social issues,” Shankar said on the eve of SMJ‘s third season premiere. “But it’s now gone way beyond that and has emerged as the best showcase of the role media can and should play in driving change in the country. I am particularly proud that Satyamev Jayate has also become the most powerful platform to inspire individuals and groups and acknowledge the extraordinary contribution that seemingly ordinary people are making to our country. For us at STAR India, it has given purpose to why we exist.”
The show struck such a chord with the Indian public that people across the country started speaking out and demanding change. Eventually, the government could no longer ignore the groundswell. Local and federal governments began introducing new laws on issues such as female feticide and revising old ones on child abuse and generic drug access. The show created a movement, inspiring people in India and the world over to take action in their communities and try to make a difference:
- Over its first three seasons, the show raised more than $45 million for its NGO partners.
- The chief minister of Rajasthan created a fast-track court to prosecute doctors who commit female feticide.
- Health ministers in Maharashtra cracked down on illegal abortions.
- The nonprofit Snehalaya founded a shelter for women and girls in Maharashtra and named it Satyamev Jayate Bhavan in the show’s honor.
- Only two weeks after the episode aired, Indian Parliament passed the first ever child protection from sexual abuse bill that had been languishing for years.
- More than 450,000 alcoholics from Kashmir to Kanyakumari reached out to Alcoholics Anonymous via the special helpline number displayed on SMJ.
- Recent data revealed by the Census of India shows a reversal of two decades of gender ratio decline in Maharashtra. The state government has acknowledged the role the show played in creating awareness of female feticide and helping reverse the situation.
- After the second season premiere episode on fighting rape was telecast, Union Health Ministers passed an ordinance banning invasive tests on rape survivors.
- The show was so successful that after only one month in office, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Aamir Khan to discuss the issues the show raised.
All episodes from the show’s three seasons are available to stream with English subtitles at SatyamevJayate.in.