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1

Among the various objections raised to the AIB Roast that has got into trouble over profanity and hurting sentiments and such was the issue of people being offended by being joked about. Normally you'd tell such people to suck it up, but when combined with humor that is already targeted for being offensive, it becomes a sort of sentimental cocktail like Farida Jalal being embarrassed at the idea of a joke about someone jerking off to her or Anil Kapoor angry over his accent being ridiculed.

I do think All India Bakchod should have taken the consent of those they ridiculed beyond the scope of those present on the stage, at the same time, I imagine it is not so easy to know who would be offended and who would not.

As an endorsement of free speech, as well as a subtle reminder to comedians by merely existing, I'm proposing that people who are staunch supporters of free speech (or merely good sports) declare openly that they would not react adversely to being ridiculed or otherwise targeted in a manner that is not intended to cause them harm or threat.

I hereby state that I am never going to file a police complaint over being joked about. Even if I don't like the joke and rip you to shreds on Twitter. I am not famous outside Twitter, so it isn't particularly useful in terms of a personality you can joke about, but who knows when a ridiculable blogger comes in handy in these touchy times?

Please note that this consent does not extend to family members or anyone other than me - whom you still ought to ask independently (if I ever get that famous :p).

Also, I hope that more interesting people to ridicule get the hint and state their open consent to free speech - including offensive speech.

I would suggest that you add your name in the comments, if you're fine being ridiculed and will not seek legal recourse if it happens. If you aren't famous, describe yourself a bit 😀 If you are famous, that is really superb. Such people are in short supply, it seems.

If you write or post elsewhere, feel free to leave a link in the comments, with your name.

If lots of people are interested in stating such consent in the interest of upholding Free Speech in a country where it is already shaky (and such consent will go a long way in taking the "offensive" out of the crappy laws)... we could perhaps have a directory of sorts, where people ridiculing anyone could simply check if their targets are listed.

That said, this is more a "speaking up" move than procedure. People can and should still be able to ridicule anyone regardless of consent, but I imagine having consenting people for the worse jokes can take some of the post publishng worry out of the planning.

Normally this shouldn't be a worry, but India's laws are sort of fucked up and it is easy for pissed people to screw your happiness.

There are too many people speaking up because they are offended, and not enough people explicitly leading the right to ridicule from the other end of the stick. Maybe this will give more people an idea.

Can you take a joke? Can you take a terrible joke? Can you take an offensive joke? Can you respond to a joke you simply cannot take without resorting to silencing others - even about you?

1

As the dialogue on gender inequality gets more strident and less nuanced, there are many holy cows and dirty pigs, where communication happens as though through a word parsing software. What is abuse and what isn't abused gets declared by the presence or absence of certain words and whether they are on the green list or red list.

This, in my view is a very primitive and undifferentiated judgment and any issues related with vulnerable people become tombs of conversation where cracking a joke is like Sushma Swaraj dancing at Raj Ghat. Insulting because it breaks a certain code, rather than offends.

So, for example you can speak of politicians raping India's forests. and compare it with the injustice of a rape, but god forbid if you crack a joke that humiliates a rape. The non-nuanced measures bring us to a point where feminists object to rape being ridiculed - not rape victim, note.

A good example is what a few people brought up on Twitter today as an example of trivializing rape. The "samudahik balatkaar" scene in 3 idiots, where a college prank sees some words change in a speech learned by rote and leads to hilarious insults. Some of them implying that the college students instead of going out in the world and performing miracles (chamatkar) will be famous for rapes (balaatkaar). The joke is on traditional methods of learning that stress memorization over meaning and sees a "bright" student insulting his college principal (and doting mentor) by unknowingly saying his students will make his college famous for rape instead of miracles. Rape is clearly used as a metaphor for inferior action. Is this offensive? Why? Rape should not have been spoken of with such rudeness? Rape deserves better respect? Not really. It just triggered the alarm in the word parser. If the word rape occurred followed by people laughing, it is somehow demeaning to women.

The film goes on to a scene where the protagonists are laughing at the stupidity of the supposed students and use the term "samudahik balaatkar" - communal rape (oh dear, another trigger word for the outrage ready, this "communal"). But the sentence is talking of that boy devastated by the humiliation of the whole community in splits with his offensive memorized speech he didn't know the meaning of. It expresses the character's trauma, but while it depicts a juvenile college mentality, it speaks of a "threat" passed - the person is not actually at risk of a community rape.

This goes for a lot of uses of the word "rape" like the insulting invented term "Great Indian Rape Trick" that was used by many on Twitter in the aftermath of the Delhi Gang Rape to express frustration with the unchanging scenario on preventing rape, regardless of outrage - almost like it is our identifier. Another one is "don't rape my mind" - which is again used in the metaphorical sense of violation - like for the forests.

In each of the "jokes", there is no rape victim whose trauma gets ridiculed. The metaphorical uses express the exploitation and harm implied by rape. It is the act of rape that is being spoken of with disrespect. In my view, this is great. There is nothing like ridicule to advertize disapproval and given the abundance of rape apologists in the country, I do think jokes that manage to humiliate rape and rapists are important. I also think the more the word rape gets used to describe harm and exploitation - whether someone's minds or forests - the more the colloquial use of the word "rape" as "cool" will die out, because of the larger meaning attached to it being completely uncool. I'd take a "dimaag rape mat kar yaar" any day over a "She's such a snob, I totally want to rape her." because the second uses the word "rape" as a justified and "cool" action, while the first uses it to express violation, even if exaggerated.

But how to know which usage does not humiliate the victims of rape, and which does?

For this, we need to think about laughter. What does your body feel when you laugh? Why is laughter a stress buster? Laughter is a sudden release of tension. Something that would be a threat if it really happened, however mild or ridiculous or improbable, that gets defeated or otherwise escaped. Laughter is also an expression of victory or surviving that threat. Which is why laughing at people offends, because it expresses their defeat at your hands. It puts the laugher above the laughee, so to say. It is also why laughing at self is seen as the mark of a self-secure and sporting person. These are subtle perceptions, which you can verify with a lot of observation of self and others, or I can write a separate post - it is a huge subject - for now, leaving it at this.

This works brilliantly against real threats and powerful targets that won't come to any real harm from the laughs. As an article I once read spoke of it, humor is like a sword. The pointy end must go in the bad guy. Killing the good guys or those who were wronged or those deserving sympathy will not be funny.

So, jokes about Kejriwal spending a night on the street will be funny, but not jokes about the homeless on the street, because for them, the "threat" is too real to laugh about. Jokes about an irritating person raping people's ears will be funny, because it is physically not possible, but an irritating person raping an actual woman will not. For the laugh to happen, the threat must END at the punch line.

This is how the rape of forets by politicians and corporations can be an outrage, but never a joke, because there is no punch line after which the rape ends. This is also why Palash Sen's humor about the lack of beautiful women in IIT made so many angry, because the stereotyping of women as eye candy for men is not something that ended with the humor.

This thinking takes nuance. A sensitivity that refuses to laugh at the plight of someone, but is fine laughing at a target that can take it. It is not about what words are used. It is about who the pointy end of that humor sword skewers. This is why there are so many people thrilled when news of rape victims bobbitizing their rapists happen. I'd heard one that went something like (I forget the exact words) "He went to put his dick in her. He couldn't put it in her, but she kept it with her - without him." As a joke goes, it wasn't a Taj Mahal of humor, but it wasn't offensive, because the underdog triumphed.

Here is a Sardarji joke I love:

Every few months, a sardarji used to cross over from India to Pakistan on a motorcycle with rocks loaded on it. The guys checking for smuggled goods and such were very suspicious about him. He just lit their buttons honed from years of experience, but no matter how much they inspected his luggage, they never found anything. One day, the sardarji was traveling back from Pakistan to India by bus, and he went to meet them saying this was his last trip, and to say "bye". They were straight with him. "We know you were smuggling something, but we never could find it. Can you tell us at least, what you were smuggling? We promise not to prosecute you." The Sardarji answered "motorcycles".

This joke is a counter-joke, where the sardarji - typically the butt of jokes portraying him as stupid triumphs. For those who respect sardarjis and are angry over their humiliation as stupid, this joke will get the laugh.

And so on.

There is a need to see that abuse or ridicule doesn't reside in the words, but in the intent. An inarticulate victim may be reduced to horrendous abuse in the face of overwhelming frustration, but is not necessarily the "abuser". Similarly, it is possible to be devastatingly humiliating without using a single bad word.

There is a need for us to refine our public outrages so that they target the wrong, rather than simply censor some words out of our vocabularies for some kinds of use.

18

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.