All India Bakchod: What makes a Mayawati joke funny?

The outrage in Delhi's National Law University against Abish Mathew's jibes at the BSP supremo was more focused on sexism than the casteism and classism underlying the jokes.

 |  3-minute read |   03-04-2015
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At the cultural event of the National Law University, Delhi, comedy group All India Bakchod's Abish Matthew found himself at the receiving end of a student protest. Offended by his jokes which they found sexist, five students of the law school were so incensed that they resorted to abuses, held placards and forced Matthew to stop his show midway. From then on, as after the AIB Roast controversy, social media has found itself divided over the "limits" on freedom of speech.

The students present there have exchanged their perspectives and while nothing directly has been heard from Matthew post the incident, he quipped on Twitter:

Who would want a comic to become a product? Not us. So what were the clean or unclean jokes that sparked the outrage? Since we weren't invited to the event, we can only base our arguments over what we read. The two jokes that have repeatedly come up in opinion pieces around the incident are:

1) A joke on how if you give drunken Malayali men five minutes, they would beat up their wives, sell their daughters off to Dubai and still have time left.

2) A joke on Mayawati being ugly that would eventually spoke about her megalomania in building statues of her own.

The first one, as this NLU student's blog points out, was on the patriarchy prevalent in our society. The Malayali reference could very well have been chosen randomly. The second one is where the problem lies.

That jibes over Mayawati's looks can be made so casually, speaks a lot about what is acceptable and unacceptable in the sensitised spaces of the liberal sections of our society. Even those who are outraged, are concerned only about the sexism in the jokes. This shows a clear prioritising of what is offensive and what isn't in our minds.

AIB and Matthew, while performing as an individual and as a group, have often taken the course of cracking jokes on the looks of individuals - a case in point would be their joke on Salman Khan's sister Arpita Khan in AIB Roast, a completely different kind of platform - to drive a larger point across. Whatever may be their intent, the fact that we laugh, brush over them and move on to the "larger" issues, speaks more about us than them. Being aware that an integral member of AIB faces tasteless ridicule of the similar kind on the internet every day, if we assume they use this to show us a mirror, do we see our ugly faces in it?

Let's face it, a joke on Mayawati is not a joke on her statues alone. It comes with the added burden of being a joke on a woman who doesn't fall into our conventional idea of good looks. And despite being electorally powerful, she comes from a social segment that has been constantly neglected and derided by the Indian society. The element of casteism and classism in an ugly Mayawati joke cannot and should be overlooked. So while a dumb Alia Bhatt joke and fat Jayalalithaa joke is terrible and problematic in their own ways, the crassness and frivolity that we attach to a Rakhi Sawant or a Mayawati is a result of our years of social conditioning. It shows us that the lesser your opponents are in a particular social hierarchy, the greater are your chances of getting away with making fun of them.


Debojit Dutta Debojit Dutta @debojitdutta

Debojit Dutta is an editor and co-founder of Antiserious. His writings have been published in the Motherland magazine, Himal Southasian and Kindle magazine.

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