There are claims making the rounds that India is a free, secular country. Somehow, I find these claims to be made in jest by our clownish leaders despite being an Indian myself (not a proud enough one though).
I find it hard to believe that politicians and even certain media persons can blurt out offensive, nonsensical, even harmful thoughts out loudly on live television without any clear research or giving it a second (maybe a third) thought and get away with it scot-free, but comedians are forced to apologise for a harmless political joke or a satirical tweet just because the truth hurts and anyone who even makes a joke at the expense of the current clownish Indian government deserves to have their voices stifled, to be trolled mercilessly for it, to have their freedom of speech and freedom of expression snatched away by the very government officials whose job ironically entails them to protect both these freedoms and then be executed on the spot for it like they’ve just committed an act of terror!
So, I ask my readers, if you had to choose, whom would you dare question for their behaviour- Comedians who are only serving their purpose of entertaining people and often giving the public food for thought to chew and process…or a government who is failing in its duty to protect its people’s rights and freedoms and only serving those who are in the majority and thus sweeping the minorities under the rug?
Indian comedienne and YouTuber Dolly Singh recently spoke out against the rape threats that countless female comedians were being subjected to from trolls who found particular jokes ‘anti-Hindu’. How far has this issue of stifling freedom of speech and expression in the field of comedy reached, you ask? Well, there’s your answer.
The reason behind this barrage of trolling and rape threats was in fact because these very trolls with obvious political affiliations had dug up a 16 month old video of comedian Agrima Joshua cracking jokes which mocked Quora users for spreading misinformation about the proposal to build a Shivaji statue off the Mumbai coast and although it was just an innocent jab at certain idiotic Quora users rather than at Chhatrapati Shivaji himself, the trolls did indeed interpret (or rather misinterpret) it as blatant disrespect towards Chhatrapati Shivaji himself. And while the comedian didn’t take the harassment lying down at first, even tweeting to the political party Shiv Sena and asking them directly to call their goons off, she had to lay low and offer an apology for the same later through no fault of hers, which is very telling of how people whose job it is to crack jokes can’t even do that safely in this country any more.
And it isn’t just the female comedians who fell prey to trolls…If rape threats weren’t enough, some trolls like Madhur Singh took it up (or down, whichever way you want to look at it) a notch and even weaponised religion (as you do, nowadays), tweeting to comedian Kenny Sebastian that ‘he was nothing but a rice bag convert’. A ‘rice bag convert’ is a slur that is used to accuse a person of following Christianity not because of their strong religious convictions but rather due to a material benefit that they receive in return to follow the religion (it originated from missionaries luring people in by means of a gift like rice bags and thus converting them easily to a particular religion). Singh resorted to abusing Sebastian in such a derogatory manner in response to Sebastian’s harmless joke on the loss faced by content creators on Tiktok after the Modi Government’s decision to ban the Chinese app in India (that’s right, America, we did it first!).
Soon after, the Modi bhakts (blind followers) stepped in and began repeatedly vilifying Sebastian on the basis of his religion…as you do in a secular country. Sebastian, of course, took all this abuse with a cool mind, although he also didn’t hesitate to unapologetically call out the trolls for their obvious bigotry.
In the past, comedians have even been doxxed for their political content (sometimes for decade-old videos of their stand-up comedy, the themes of which have often been misconstrued) and their personal details such as phone numbers have been made public, thus endangering their lives by opening them up to direct physical harm and even personal harm to their families.
An example of this is comedian Aadar Malik, who is known for his stand-up wherein he pokes fun at the Modi government pushing its anti-Muslim narrative, being forced to apologise after trolls attacked him for his 8-year-old set on an enthusiastic Ganesh Chaturthi festival celebration which was said to have ‘hurt religious sentiments’. “I am getting threats to my family. Please don’t do that. It becomes a very scary atmosphere.” He pleaded in the apology video on his Twitter account.
Another comedian, Munawar Faruqui rang in his 2021 by falling victim to a merciless beating and subsequent arrest after a video of him ‘hurting religious sentiments’ through an obviously satirical stand-up routine went viral. However, reports from his audience members who clearly enjoyed the harmless standup have since gone viral and of course, the accusations are now meaningless. They also sadly drive home my point that comedy and comedians are no longer safe in this ‘secular country’.
So much for freedom of speech and expression…
“The politicians are put there to give you the idea you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you.”
I imagine even the late satirist George Carlin had his fair share of naysayers for spouting truth bombs like a boss back in the day through his hard-hitting comedy routines which also doubled as biting political commentary and just like Kenny Sebastian, he too didn’t back out of calling them out for it and hopefully comedians continue to call out all that’s horrendously unappealing about the government or society as a whole, haters be damned!
And hopefully, those who condemn comedians for doing so or deem them as ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘anti-national’ can grow up, grow to be more open-minded and see the truth behind their jokes and question the butt of these jokes (cough…the government) instead of aiming barbed slurs at the people who deliver such truth bombs through their well-meaning jokes.
In conclusion, if harmless jokes from comedians like Kenny Sebastian, Agrima Joshua and Aadar Malik are seen as derogatory comments in India, then I do hesitate for famed satirist Ricky Gervais, for if he ever flew down here to India to do one of his truth bomb-loaded sets or even tweeted jokingly about the current socio-political crisis in India, he would have these very hounds baying for his blood and demanding for him to be thrown behind the bars of only the choicest of Indian jails!