Sardar jokes are no laughing matter

There is a thin line between fun and offence and it often gets blurred.

 |  4-minute read |   07-10-2016
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Members of the Sikh community have approached the Supreme Court seeking a ban on sardar jokes. In fact, they have also given an 800-page reply to the court on how to go about implementing the ban.

Earlier, the court had expressed doubts over the feasibility of banning jokes on any community. Since the matter has reached the top court, it’s high time to deliberate over the issue.

Certain questions do come to mind that would be there in front of the court also, laying bare the difficulty of enforcing such as a ban.

"Today, it is Sikhs. Tomorrow, people from the North-East will come and seek a direction that there should be a ban on anyone referring to them as 'chinkies'. Day after, the people living below Vindhyachal will seek a ban on North Indians referring to them as Madrasis. How does one deal with such issues?" a perplexed court had asked.

The list doesn’t end there. Other communities such as Muslims, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and people from regions such as Bihar and Bengal find themselves the butt of jokes.

I can say from first-hand experience that it can hurt. Being a Bihari and a Muslim always left a wide canvas to work with. The accent of Biharis is a favourite - in fact, I find jokes on that much more offensive than the sardar jokes.

At least the sardar is only shown stupid, a Bihari is shown both foolish and abject poor - a vitriolic mix of ridicule and derision. “Arey, Bihari ho…” - this fragmentary sentence is enough to draw the stereotype.

Lalu Prasad is a favourite (these days even Rahul Gandhi has not been spared - maybe it’s one more way to put him down).

khushwant-embed_100716054758.jpg Khushwant Singh used to not only relish sardar jokes but also published them and asked others to contribute. (Photo credit: India Today) 

Actually, I have never come across a genuine Bihari joke that could evoke laughter in me. Same is with circumcision of Muslim men. Once someone joked about it among friends; while they all guffawed and roared, I was left squirming.

In fact, I didn’t have the courage to face the same set of people again for quite some time.

Let’s accept that jokes can be a lethal weapon to demonstrate political and ethnic supremacy.

According to Collins English Dictionary, “a joke is something that is said or done to make you laugh, for example a funny story.” So, the listener of the joke should find it amusing.

What happens if the listener doesn’t find it funny, rather finds it offensive? In that case, does the funny thing qualify as a joke? It doesn’t. And should be stopped forthwith.

But different people respond in different ways to sardar jokes. For example, Navjot Singh Sidhu laughs on all kinds of jokes, including the sardar variety (well, he is paid to do that).

However, another member from the same community finds it degrading. So is it really just about perceptions? Similarly, there are other questions too? What happens if a Sikh cracks a sardar joke? Or a Muslim joke?

Will that person be taken to task? Khushwant Singh used not only to relish sardar jokes but also published them and asked others to contribute. Just imagine, what would happen if a Sikh were to take part in the AIB roast! I can’t.

As far as ridicule in public is concerned, celebrities like cricketers, politicians, and Bollywood stars (Shahrukh Khan and Manoj Kumar instantly come to mind - one threatened to sue while the other is not bothered and thinks he has far more important things to attend to) take the cake. Can they also complain?

The recent example of Virat Kohli is particularly striking. He has probably got the lesson of his life - something no coach would ever tell him. Now he knows the moment his bat stops talking, people at large take it upon themselves to ridicule the very god that they worshipped.

The so-called twitteratti tore him on his relationship with Anushka Sharma. How did he deal with it? He slammed the trolls in no uncertain terms. Shouldn’t he also have the right to appeal? Why is there no law against it?

If a community is targeted one can at least hide behind others, but when a below-the-belt blow is aimed right at your face, you can do precious little. It can traumatise a person to no end.

Cutting a long story short, if the Sikh community feels victimised and targeted, then such jokes should not be cracked. After all, don’t you want the other person to enjoy your funny bit? Or somebody else in the company not to feel awkward?

There is a thin line between fun and offence and it often gets blurred. The trick is to stay on this side of the fence and not cross the line. Anyway, what’s the point of a joke that makes an entire community feel harassed?

But political correctness can only come with societal awareness and sensitisation. No amount of judicial intervention would solve the issue. Khushwant Singh may have wanted this unique turn of events and give his expert comments.

Also read: 5 comedians whose 'insult humour' will roast you alive


Muqbil Ahmar Muqbil Ahmar @muqbil_ahmar

The writer is a theatre activist, film critic and blogger who wants to bring harmony in society. Music, poetry and food are his passions.

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