It was the usual Saturday morning. Gingerly, I sat up in my bed with the daily newspapers in front of me. I skimmed through the headlines and the lead story. Nothing out of the ordinary, but the usual political hullaballoo painted in black all over the page. Alas! My eyes darted towards a mention about […]
It was the usual Saturday morning. Gingerly, I sat up in my bed with the daily newspapers in front of me. I skimmed through the headlines and the lead story. Nothing out of the ordinary, but the usual political hullaballoo painted in black all over the page. Alas! My eyes darted towards a mention about the apex court assenting to hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by an eminent lawyer, Harvinder Chowdhury, concerning the banning of jokes about the Sikh community on the World Wide Web, on the bottom half of the front page. My eyes popped. I grabbed my glasses and got busy reading. What started out as an ordinary, lethargic Saturday morning, eventually metamorphosed into something that got me thinking and wondering. It troubled and provoked me to pen down this article.
Growing up in an urbane city like Chandigarh was memorable, but for one thing. I studied in an all boys’ school where each class had few Sikh boys in a class of 40 students. We were nicknamed “Sardar” or “Surdy” in mawkishly, condescending tones. It was almost as if our first names, given to us by our parents, were of little or no significance. Our identity and our cultural sensibilities were challenged.
Eventually, we graduated to senior school. Along with that came the witty, scornful humour that was targeted towards us, the Sikhs. From seniors on the school bus to classmates at recess, everyone cracked jokes — unintelligent, dim-witted, crude jokes. As a child, you don’t tend to pick friends from different communities or backgrounds. Friendships come without any pre-requisites. As the teenage years set in, you become more conscious of who you are as an individual — both from the inside and outside. You’re keen to socialise, make new friends and try hard to fit in. But, the daily reminder of the unsophisticated “12 bajj gaye” joke took things to a different level. I was a national-level debater and public speaker at school. It was very hard for me, as a Sikh, to face audiences and juries that were largely composed of non-Sikhs. Year after year, at school, my appearance on the dais was greeted with roaring hoots of derisive laughter and jeers, reminding me that at 12 noon, all Sikhs went into a tizzy! But, as soon as I began to speak; they would fall silent. When I finished speaking, they were all too embarrassed to applaud.
As time passed, I stepped into university. I mellowed a bit. I gave in to the nasty “Santa-Banta” jokes, though I’ve never ever found them even a wee bit funny. Every now and then I would hear my friends plead, “Hey! I hope you will not mind. I don’t mean any disrespect to you or your religion. Nothing personal, ya! There’s this Sardarji joke I wanted to crack.” I gave in.
But the fiery, self-respecting Sikh in me has now woken up. I vociferously and bluntly tell people that yes, I do mind. I do mind because it hurts my sentiments and feelings. It pains and troubles me. So, I think you need to zip-up! Although I never bothered to think about the serious ramifications of all of this till I read this particular news item, I’m thinking about it now and I’m appalled at the potential of the origin of such nasty jokes that openly target members of a successful, victorious, amiable, lovable, minority community who are easy to identify with their turbans and flowing beards, anyway. The mere thought that any social gathering could possibly end up singling out and maliciously ridiculing a group of people who are largely hard-working, vivacious and accommodating is ridiculous and dangerous. Intentionally or not, “with all due respect” or “I hope you won’t mind”, this isn’t amusing and it needs to stop. It needs to stop because we Sikhs, despite being a tiny minority, belong to India as much as any other community does.
No doubt free speech is fundamental and guaranteed to us by our Constitution but free speech isn’t absolute — it comes with a degree of responsibility. Respect and reverence for other communities are significant pillars of Indian democracy. When free speech is intentionally used to hurt and abuse others, then it must be checked and confiscated. Our community has produced great humorists like Khushwant Singh, who surely have their place in a multi-ethnic society such as ours. They lay threadbare the shortcomings of the fringe, insane elements. But, maliciously crafting jokes about a community — it could be any community — and then shielding them on the grounds of freedom of expression is a crying shame and a bleeding pity which ought to be condemned. So I thank and salute Harvinder Chowdhury, not as a fellow Sikh, but as a proud Indian for filing this PIL.
RIP Santa & Banta!
~ Source: IndianExpress