Sikhs offended by a JayHind video

Free Speech is a tough road to take. Particularly when sensibilities are hurt. And this question is arising more and more frequently and with increasing intensity these days.

As someone who writes on the bleeding edge of touchy sensibilities routinely (though not well enough for satire, which is a very difficult art form), I know how easy it is to make one point only to kill another. A recent example is when I was of the opinion that the faces of rape victims must not be hidden, because it is not their shame, and in hiding their faces, we are in essence saying “if people knew this was you, they wouldn’t respect you” and in saying that, we call her someone who can’t be openly accepted because of what she went through. We also protect ourselves from watching her face, from facing our own fears and frustrations come true on her face. I stand by this opinion, and many found a new way of thinking with the article I wrote. However, there was a sizeable group of people who did not appreciate this view. In their view, exhibiting the humiliation of a person was an insult. Which is also an important point.

It did not matter to them that I had said that it is important to empower the victim and ask them if they wanted their face blurred. To give them the choice of standing defiantly in front of the world or reserving their identity from a bigoted world – to choose whether they considered this a fight worth fighting at all. The other side of the argument was equally vital. The victim might change her mind. Fighting need not happen while she was traumatized. The response she got may be impossible to reverse if she can’t cope. And more. All serious. Both sides.

I don’t believe I was wrong in making that point. However, I cannot say the ones who objected were wrong either. And it was impossible to predict the outrage I caused. And I would have still said it if I knew. Because there is no one right thought from all views. Sensitivity is being aware of the various ways it could be seen.

Recently, Daniel Tosh made some rape jokes at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood and a woman in the audience spoke up that “rape jokes are never funny,” in retribution Tosh said it would be hilarious if she were gang-raped right there in the club. So pandemonium reigned. A superb article on Jezebel explores this: How to make a rape joke. Technically the idea was ridiculous that a gang rape could just start happening, but the joke pointed the wrong way. A joke is like a sword. The pointy end has to either go into the bad guy, or a target that can take the mock threat it suggests with composure. A rape victim is neither. Now, if it were a joke impaled the rape culture, you’d have that spontaneous laugh that comes from relief of a threat demolished (a lot of humor is about things that should alarm being destroyed). You only have to see JayHind’s episodes lampooning censorship.

Sometimes, we don’t pay attention to where the joke is pointing or could be perceived as pointing, like my article – unintended targets being hit. In a serious article, you can debate the point. In satire, it goes rapidly into being perceived as an insult. It is a mistake. I refuse to believe any comedian has an ambition to see jokes fall flat. There is nothing worse than a joke that is not funny, because it leaves the joker vulnerable. Every joke is about sticking your neck out, and no sane person knowingly risks it. This needs to be understood clearly.

So in the recent controversy over a JayHind video offending Sikh sensibilities, I can say with confidence that offending absolutely anyone they didn’t intend to offend was unintentional, and if they wanted to offend Sikhs, the show would look very different. I do not believe there was any insult or offense intended.

That said, as someone very interested in minority rights, I don’t find it funny at all for a Sikh to say he’s been running since 1984 for example. The pointy end goes into the wrong guy. Now it was Tytler saying he was running since 1984, that would definitely be good satire. Same genocide, but the pointy end in the bad guy. This joke fell flat. And that is where it should remain. It is most definitely appropriate to point out that uh… this didn’t work. That it was insensitive. Particularly since the issue has not even been denounced the way it should be in real life. So it is an open wound. That said, it is ridiculous to imagine it insults Fauja Singh at all. A centenarian running mocks not him, but us couch potatoes watching. No matter how exaggerated the running is.

We could analyze this till the world ends, but the fact remains that explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. It can be done, but the frog will die. Now, this humor would really be offensive to frogs, because while they aren’t the bad guys, they end up dying. Luckily, frogs don’t hear it, and the joke not being pointed at them, doesn’t make people hate frogs.

I think the failure of this joke, or worse some actually finding it funny, if anyone did reflects more on our insensitivity as a Nation where our awareness doesn’t register the hurt of the Sikhs (though we do talk of it to score political points) and like the guy who made the rape joke, we simply don’t realize that it can hurt. This lack of acknowledgment that a grave wrong happened also makes Sikhs lash out over their grief not mattering to people at large. We can say the insensitivity was JayHind’s alone and escape our culpability if we want, but what is funny is a social construct or there is no joke potential in a comment. So I totally understand the outrage and the importance of making that outrage heard, because it is their right that their history be a part of National awareness. So, while I disagree with imposed censorship in principle, I do see the marginalization they experienced.

Comedy exists for an audience. If a joke hurts the intended audience of which Sikhs are a part, the purpose is lost. JayHind have been superb at delivering Comedy with a capital C for quite a while, and it would not be possible if they had malicious intent. They occupy an important space in a world getting increasingly intolerant. The space to speak freely, spare no holy cows, and continue to speak and fight our increasing intolerance that seeks to wipe out anything that offends. I would appreciate anyone thinking of this issue to see the vast collection of often excellent comedy that strikes at political and social bigotry that is doing a lot of damage to our country and see the larger reason we need them to exist. Why we need them to survive attempts of silencing in a country bent on censorship.

I would hope that the Sikhs with their famed sense of humor and large hearts, seasoned with being the brunt of far more awful and purposeless Sikh jokes for years can find the generosity in them to accept that JayHind meant no malice. I realize this is a difficult request and also possibly unfair seeing as how both Hindus and Muslims merrily persecute insult with disproportionate force. But perhaps when two major religions have cascaded into intolerance, somewhere, other strong faiths need to arrest that slide and make a strong stand to provide the country with an alternative way of thinking. Wiping out of existence the cause of outrage is an answer that will destroy us as a country the more we do it.

Of course, it would help if JayHind acknowledged the hurt that resulted without their intention. While they shouldn’t apologize for something they didn’t intend, it goes a long way to accept that there were unintended consequences and they did hurt people without meaning to. A laugh makes some words a joke.

The suggestions that come to mind are:

  • That video could be removed
  • That video could contain an acknowledgment in its description that it was perceived by some as communally demeaning and that is not the intent.

In either case, I disagree with attempts to take JayHind off-air completely or absolutely every comedy show would end up trashed over something or the other or worse, become conformist. We would strike a blow against a fundamental right for us as a country over a few minutes of problematic video in thousands of hours of vital footage.

To my knowledge, JayHind has taken the video off air, but it was uploaded by those protesting. Here it is. Do listen to the lyrics of the song that follows.

In the end, I want to address a question I got asked on Twitter what I would do if I or the community I belong to got joked about. Well, it happens. I am atheist, so not many religious jokes bother me, but I am a feminist, and there is a vast number of rape jokes, sexist jokes, sexist stereotypes and more that do bother me. Sometimes insult me deeply. I am a victim of domestic violence, and I have a dedicated anti-fan club on Twitter who joke on and off about how I should be beaten up by my husband and my problem is that the violence I face is verbal, so I feel incomplete, which is why I tweet about it. There are other jokes, or rather insults from where I’m looking which talk about my son who has special needs. They are not as many currently, but a few months back, there was a veritable epidemic.

You can talk about “Bijli Aunty” on Twitter and a vast number of people know who you are talking about. I have taken offense, I have engaged in tweet wars, I have argued and fought people in real life. I have been angry, hurt, sarcastic or simply dismissive. But so far, I have not silenced anyone. The closest I came was mock conversation with a follower who asked if I wanted a man who made a rape threat about me picked up and taken to the police station. He deleted his tweet and apologized. Perhaps, over a direct tweet like that, I’d have filed a complaint, but he apologized and it sounded sincere, and that was the end of the matter. Will this continue? I hope so. I hope I never lose touch with important values enough to lose them in a haze of anger.

So yes, while I ask of the Sikhs to do what most religions are not doing it, I am not asking for something I am not willing to do myself.

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18 thoughts on “Sikhs offended by a JayHind video”

  1. and did u conveniently forget to write about the character wiping his sweaty face with the beard ? or are you simply that ignorant about the importance and religious value of beard in the Sikh religion?

  2. Ok, so you are saying if a Western channel made fun of Gandhi for having gay affairs or just make fun of him in general in terms of free speech all the Hindu community wont be pissed. Yeah that is what I thought, Jayhind should just come out and say that there weren’t bad intentions behind it, and apologize if anyone feelings were hurt, as they were only trying to get a laugh. Also free speech in India? Haha You can talk about who filming industry is blocking the publication of a movie that talks about India in 1984 and what really happened. Why did they block? Does the Sikhs don’t have free speech to show what happened to them in 1984? What about people in Kashmir, and the victims of 1984 who haven’t still got their justice. Free speech = jail in my experience of living in India.

  3. The piece was termed political satire and yet it was the minority community ridiculed rather than any political leaders, why not show Tytler running?
    Also his ridiculous accent portrayal, that his turban and T shirt are yellow as he eats Haldi, him wiping his face with his beard is offensive, and its naive to believe there was no intention to insult. Were Sikhs meant to be happy and enjoy this portrayal of a respected Sikh icon?
    My biggest objection and concern with this programme is that it makes light of communal massacres that happened in Delhi and Gujarat. The Central Govt took a very soft line on both and therefore the guilty still roam free, therefore it is very dangerous in a country like India where only recently a MLA was attacked by over 100 RSS thugs for marrying a Muslim, to make light of communal violence.

  4. Contd.. from my last comment 2Vidyut 🙂 :p 😀
    Now The TTE & The Train Guard arrive, and ask who pulled the Chain ? Our Mallu Mon coolly points the finger at our Burly
    Sardar. Sardar exasperated says, he wanted me to pull the train, co-passengers nodded in unison accepting Surd ‘s statement.
    Mallu Mon, staying on his top-berth, without making any effort to get down, and keeping his composure , showed a question mark gesticulation, with his hand formed like a snake, and the pull sign , then the stop sign. Meaning that he was just asking the Surd, to show/explain to him, as to how to pull the train to a halt, because his inquisitive mind wanted to know the same. Seeing which, The Burly Sardar Pulled the chain!!! since Mallu and the Mallu Guard, knew Malayalam and English , he told the same verbally also to the Guard & TTE in both the languages too. Hearing Our Mummootty, the co-passengers again affirmatively nodded their head in full acceptance of Mallu Mon’s statement.
    Now The TTE pulled out his receipt book and wrote a receipt of Fine of Rs 250 ( that time in the 80’s that exactly was the amount of fine) . Without a murmur, Our Sardar, Pulled out his wallet, took out 5 Rupee 50 notes and silently handed the same to the TTE.
    As soon as the Guard and the TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) left the Bogey, Smart Mummootty Mallu Mon, Got down from his berth, to the ground, stood opposite our Hurley Burly Brawny Surd, looked straight sharply with scorn into his eyes, Gave him one of the Hardest Possible One Tight Slap ” Cupping his hands around his mouth Shouted ” Dei? Enda Da Mairey, Endey Sundara Kuttan Money Punjabbi Pappey, Chaawal Khaa CHAAWAL

    #JokeExplainedPosting it to my blog too 🙂

  5. How is He-Man instead of “Bijli Aunty” Vidyut ? 🙂 Because He-Man always says ” I have the Power ” And Uwaar the only “Man” on my TL ! Nice POV on freedom of expression and humor..I hope The people from Sikh Community, who are objecting to @JayHind Video,MUST read Khushwant Singh’s Saturday Weekend syndicated article ” With Malice to One and All ” He frequently has Sardar Jokes in them, sent to him by another Sardar from Delhi, J P Singh Kaka!
    Is it because Khushwant Singh is a Sikh Himself they don’t object to them? My today’s Twitter TL is full of Regional #slytweets on #Olympics !!!One reads ” Aren’t only South Indians & East Indians winning at #Olympics & all North Indians losing ? “Another reads” In #Olympics , South Indian Saina & #Kolkata er Cheley Paes will be playing to #win tonight #slytweet ”
    Humor Kanchan Gupta Subramanian Swamy or Narendra Modi or Anything for that matter, ANYTHING except that, the intent of which is to belittle someone, and make them depressed, like the RT of a London teenager tweet ” Does Wimbledon always take place in London ? ” is an acceptable part of Social Media. We South Indians are used to Delhi Punjabbis making fun of us ” Maadey je Madrassis ” ( This an actual Sikh term frequently used by all Punjabbis and Sikhs in the North India. my Late Sikh Mother-in-Law Sardarni Harinder Kaur Siddhu-Goswami, while watching Malayalam Regional Movies on Sunday afternoon on @DDNational1 😀 ) since time immemorial, based on this, I made a joke in College in 1980’s
    ” A Malayali enters platform no 2 of Hazrat Nizamuddin Junction, Delhi and tries to lift his heavy trunk into Kerala Express bogie, he finds it difficult, A Sardar, watching his discomfiture, lifts the Trunk, pushes it inside the bogey, Slaps the Mallu, and shouts ” Oye Madrassi Oye, ROTTI KHA ROTTI”
    The Mallu is a bit weak and not as strong as the Surd, hence keeps quiet, drags his trunk to his seat. As his Bad fortune, he is allotted top berth, He tries to lift the trunk again, ad keep it at the top berth . The Surd Again lifts the heavy trunk, keeps it on the top berth, again Slaps the Mallu, this time harder, and blurts ” Oye Madrassi Oye, ROTTI KHA ROTTI ”
    The train starts, everyone in the bogey go to sleep after lunch. But our Mallu Mon is Sleepless in Sahibabad ! With all this ignominy, insults and the physical hurt of 2 Hard Dhai Kilo Ka Haath Slaps, had recoiled him and rattled him. He was livid with rage and a Burning Desire to take a Revenge, befitting his mental skill and intelligent quotient.. He waits until as soon as, the Surd and everyone in their coupe were fast asleep & start snoring. He quietly acts as though he was trying to pull the emergency chain to stop the train, weakly making a dangling noise and acting as though he is unable to pull the chain. Hearing the commotion, the Surd wakes up, finding Mallu unable to pull the Chain, He gesticulates with his hand, asking what ? Mallu Mon gesticulates back he wants to know how to stop the train.Now Surd, Pulls the Emergency Chain, with full force, making a loud noise and waking everyone in their coupe. Everyone watches the Surd Pull the Chain and the train stopped to halt instantaneously. Now, a proud and conscious of his new-found face through his Brawny Heroics, Held Mallu by his Collar & Slapped him the HARDEST, AND Blares at the Top of his voice ” Oye Madrassi Oye, Rotti Khaa Oye ROTTI!!! ” contd … 2

  6. A much needed post to clear the air over the over protective and over offensive natures. The balance is with a balance. I do not see a need for a complete ban on JayHind show for this reason. Though, however, they must also realise that free speech comes with a responsibility, which, in this case, they miserably failed to handle. I hope they realise this and find a common ground with the outraged people in the Sikh community. Thanks for the well deserved post for the issue!

    1. To me, the only “responsibility” that comes with free speech is that others may not like you. They can write against you, lampoon you in the press etc. If someone comes at me with a stick however, I will not accept that as a valid “consequence” of my free speech.

        1. Except where religious groups have tried to file a case against the supposed “offenders”. Or where Christian groups in Mumbai are trying to have Sanal Edamaruku arrested for “hurting their sentiments” be exposing their fake miracle.

          1. It is rightful for an Indian citizen to, under the protection of law, complain to the court against attempted and conducted maligning and misrepresentation and ridiculing of a person and/or community. Nothing overboard here. If JayHind can’t handle courtroom time, they should have known the responsibility that comes with jokes going wrong beforehand.

          2. Every person should have the right to ridicule another person. Unless there’s a threat of physical violence, everyone should just learn to develop a thick skin and put up with what’s said.

            Words are just words. Ignore them if you don’t like them.

          3. NO ONE should have the right to riducle another person, ever. “Unless
            there’s physical violence”? An emotional threat is far more stronger
            than a physical threat. Words always have meaning to them. The Sikh
            community has been hurt with this episode, and that’s how it will be. We
            are outraged with the topics they have brought up, that’s how it is.
            And us speaking up, it’s how we’re “putting up with them”. And now if
            you don’t like what we are saying, build your own damn thick skin b/c we
            the heck are not.

          4. It’s fine to voice your protests – until you begin to demand that people take back what they said or threaten the with legal action.

            What is wrong with ridiculing another person? We’re all adults not children. We can handle it. Don’t like what someone said? Don’t listen to them! Don’t like what you read? Don’t read it!

            Everyone can deal with emotional threats by just ignoring the source. Physical threats are different and we need protection of the state.

            So by all means, object to what you hear. But you have no right to threaten prosecution if you’re not in physical danger.

          5. Are you for real? ”
            What is wrong with ridiculing another person? We’re all adults not children.” You mean adults have no feelings, they can’t be hurt?
            “But you have no right to threaten prosecution if you’re not in physical danger”
            Really? So, let me get this clear. According to you, a person can make ridicule of my feelings, go on making mockery of things I values, my sentiment, my family, my country, my faith, my religion, my looks. Heck he can even defame me by spreading false accusations against me. And I have to witness this silently, because, surprise, that person did not physically assault me? So the only option for me (unless I am physically assaulted) is ignore it?
            Dude, “to ignore” should be one of the options not the ONLY option available.
            Seriously, sort out your life . Please post on the forums only when you are sober.

          6. Okay. Let me ask you this question in another context. What if somebody bad-mouthes your family and calls your wife/gf/sister/mother/daughter something nasty in their face, right in front of you.What do you plan to do then? Just “sit and take it”? If you can’t , this means you are insecure?

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