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66

Dear Aamir Khan,

This is about a video of you on the subject of All India Bakchod's Knockout Roast. I agree with many views you expressed. I think it was juvenile, offensive, irresponsible. I agree that being profane for the sake of being profane is not funny. I agree that jokes about identity, color of skin or sexual orientation - particularly blunt, outright insults - are not funny. I saw the Roast. Some of it was funny, some in bad taste. It had multiple content warnings like you can't miss.

I appreciate that you stressed the extent of the right to object, in terms of expressing your dislike and requesting that the offensive speech be discontinued.

If you had kept it at that, I would not have a problem with your views. As someone speaking up for Free Speech for years now, I have a problem when you put the onus of not offending on the speaker with your talk of the creator having responsibility and oh so virtuous nonsense about "dil dukhana" and what not. You claim to be a responsible creator, yet I distinctly recollect speaking up to defend your film PK (which I haven't seen yet) from people who were outraged by whatever insult they perceived in it.

If the responsibility of not offending falls on the creator of the content, then perhaps you are not as ideal as you seemed to imply with the Delhi Belly example and perhaps should have added content warnings of another sort "Caution: Religion discussed here" etc and people objecting should have requested you with folded hands, etc. You know first hand what happens when angry people don't like content. Do you see the anger as your fault?

The opinions you expressed seemed to lack the gravity of understanding. The situation was beyond saying "please" FIRs were filed. There were threats, intimidation. The All India Bakchod videos are offline and they are busy issuing apologies left, right and center. At this point, when you speak of them being responsible for offending, it is the same as saying you are responsible for the vandalized theaters. How you think offense should be expressed is irrelevant when you speak after it has already been expressed. Who you blame can still be applicable and do much damage to free speech overall. "Even Aamir Khan said that you should not offend people".

It isn't the polite requests to desist that are the problem with Free Speech - the subject of the controversy and reason you were asked to comment at all. It is because lives and property are routinely harmed. Voices are silenced. The issue is way bigger than a juvenile video or what you or I think about it, when you expand your opinion into a blanket responsibility on the creator for "Who is responsible for hurt sentiments?"

Because, that question also answers who is responsible for Perumal Murugan being hounded or Shirin Dalvi having to go underground and her newspaper shut down or theaters showing PK being vandalized - with the WRONG ANSWER. People may not follow your guidelines on asking politely, but they will have no problem appropriating your words on the responsibility of those they want to silence to not anger them.

That is how FIRs get filed and threats made and you get invited to comment on a "wrong" done EVEN AFTER APOLOGIES AND THE VIDEO BEING PULLED DOWN. Way past the time for "Please, Sorry, Thank you". Your words end up endorsing intolerance by legitimizing people being offended and having the right to expect the creator to discontinue. You may accept that as your limit, but if others did, then Free Speech wouldn't be a rights issue, it would be a talk show where everyone shares opinions and goes home happy.

When a large voice like yours tells people that people speaking must be careful, and people who get offended can ask them to stop, a thousand voices like mine get raw throats trying to talk sanity on the issue and explain why it is not okay to shut people up just because you don't like what they say. "but even Aamir Khan agrees..." The louder the voice, the more power to heal or damage it has. I request you to be careful with where you lay blame.

Out of stray curiosity and as a side note, I want to ask you if you asked Karan and Arjun to not propagate the videos of the event further - like showing clips to people, like you saw, or putting on youtube - since that is the method you are recommending and you also say that you thought the show was offensive. If you did it, and they listened, perhaps this whole situation wouldn't have happened?

A blogger who cares for the Freedom of Expression.

Vidyut

It is no secret that Indian laws on Free Speech are not exactly geared for creative freedom. Where "offensive" can legally be prosecuted, not much remains to be said. This is hardly a secret and it is impossible that anyone in the business of creating content for the masses - whether publishing or video can be unaware of it given the regular outrages it throws up.

When All India Bakchod produced its event as a "roast" - a format of insult based humor - it is impossible that none of the wise people on the team or those helping them produce it thought that there would be angry people. Them going ahead and producing it did indeed seem like pushing the envelope, as they claimed it to be.

In the process, name and fame and money (for charity) came their way. Many of those who saw the roast were vaguely revolted by the idea of crudery for the sake of crudery - including humor that bordered on insults of identities - for color of skin, sexual orientation or whatever. There still was a willingness to accept it all for the simple reason that the show did one thing. It blew open the question of what is allowed speech.

Support mobilized from everywhere. People spoke up in solidarity and support. Many people published videos using profanity as solidarity.

Predictably there was outrage. You cannot produce content with explicit phallic profanity and pretty much only that without angering those who would like to pretend that pre-teen kids playing cricket don't yell "teri maa ka ******" on streets (true story, right under my window). This was predictable and happened as predicted.

It appears everyone except All India Bakchod anticipated this for some reason. As the outrage came in with police complaints filed and intimidation from fringe political outfits, they suddenly lost their hard on, so to say. They took down their video (not before it got millions of hits), wrote a half assed statement about how them being okay with facing consequences but not others, etc. and have been busy apologizing ever since, it seems.

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena said that they wouldn't allow any films featuring the participants of the roast to be released unless Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh apologized. They not just apologized, they took down their video. From there on it seems to be an orgy of apologies. Ranveer Singh apologizes to ex-girlfriend, someone apologized to gays - not sure who. AIB issued yet another apology specifically to Christians and god knows who else.

The one apology they have not made is to those who stood by them and are now looking like fools for believing in their right to create content that pushed envelopes. In the face of illegal intimidation, FIRs and the standard issue outrage were entities like the Film Writers Association of India and Amul, which immortalized their show with an Amul cartoon in solidarity.

Amul butter cartoon supporting AIB
Amul butter cartoon supporting AIB

There are people who have gone out of their normal use of language to produce content with profanity in support of All India Bakchod. In solidarity.

Instead of the rattling of a bad status quo on free speech, what All India Bakchod did was to endorse it with high profile apologies. Over and over.

Instead of reaching out to the wider community endorsing their right to speech and willing to challenge laws if need be, by their side, they abdicated their own speech and screwed the fight for Freedom of Expression in India by bowing down to the dysfunctional status quo.

Many have said that All India Bakchod cannot be blamed for what our intolerance forced them to do. Well, I do blame them. The intolerance is not a new thing or something they were not aware of while creating a full fledged profanity and abuse filled show. What did they expect when they created it? Sardar shabashi dega?

That just because they created profanity, people would be all applause? No one is that stupid. They created something illegal as a hit and run name and fame (and fund raising) measure is the only conclusion that I can draw from this.

Do they care that in the process they harm a rights movement that has far more serious stakes than their whim to be juvenile? They apologized to the Christians who have magnanimously accepted it. In the meanwhile, Sanal Edamaruku continues to live outside India, hounded by FIRs for exposing a "miracle" that turned out to be embarrassing for the church.

It is the same anger I felt during the Tarun Tejpal case and the same anger I felt when the BJP suddenly woke up to free speech when their own supporters got accounts blocked. It is those with abundant voice using entire rights movements at convenience without regard for the potential setback to the rights of those who face far more danger than they do. It is us elites who know the arguments and jargon of the "right side" of debates and can use it to claim our rights with great ease and scant regard for the backlash on the credibility of the cause itself that we are exploiting and far more vulnerable people counting on overcoming resistance to their rights for their very safety.

There are battered women walking into police stations being turned away without FIRs, but we make a spectacle of how women can completely demolish a man without filing an FIR and the media will cheer. There are people whose writing gets taken down, who are forced to flee the place they live in, but we can whimsically use black profile pictures over temporarily blocked social media accounts and go back to filing FIRs to silence those we don't like. There are people forced to flee the country for making the church angry, but we will go out of our way to make them angry and resolve it easily with an "oops. sorry". Who cares what this trivialization does to the family of the raped girl whose father carried her for hours only to be refused an FIR or the Perumal Murugans or the Sanal Edamarukus?

This is the worst exploitation of profound struggles for human rights in my eyes.

It isn't about blaming or not blaming AIB. It is about horrendous precedent set through completely thoughtless "pushing the envelope" - what they did was illegal and guaranteed to create outrage all through. Yet their resolve crumbled so thoroughly on facing threat that they did not even attempt to rally the overwhelming support offered to them to make their "rebellion" a success. Those supporting them to push Freedom of Speech further ended up with a sterling example of how to resolve outrage slapped into their faces. Apologize, over and over. Grovel. Go into hiding. That is how you can resolve outrage when someone doesn't like what you said.

And no, All India Bakchod hasn't apologized to us for deliberately raising and then sabotaging the question of Free Speech. The free speech they were flashing around as they raised funds on their event and youtube. All of us who spoke up for it because we know how important it is for blocks to be prevented - many of whom didn't even like the crudery. All of us who stood up for them.

I would say fuck you All India Bakchod, except there appears to be a queue to do exactly that.