If you watch progressive Western comedy, you would find anti-racism resistance by people of colour and other communities upholding humour as a form of protest.
If you watch comedy shows being streamed online in India, you would largely find casteist slurs and discriminatory sets by upper-caste individuals. A nexus of linguistic commercialisation, many among those part of the ‘comedy industry’ in India are apathetic towards the fact that laughter is an expression – and that if your expression becomes an oppressive tool, it is a form of brutality.
To comprehend a society, one can study its statistics or one can analyse its laughter. To understand India, you can read the data on caste brutalities or the tweets of the self-proclaimed gatekeepers of humour.
An introspection of history would show clearly how from resisting Hitler in Nazi Germany to depicting how upper-caste Hindus were petrified of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar bringing the revolutionary Hindu Code Bill for women rights, humour has hitherto been a respectable form of art and social protest. It has been used to build a rapport and also as a heuristic tool to gain insight into peoples’ opinions.
Given its colossal power, humour comes with moral responsibility. It can be used to reinforce narratives such as ‘us versus them’. In the Indian comedy circuit, this narrative is being fixated as the ‘privileged versus the marginalised’, where the more privileged the individual, the more marginalised they consider themselves to be.
For thousands of years, the oppressor castes have unabashedly derived joy from extending trauma to Bahujans. Any emotion has a rationale behind experiencing it. Humour is often contextualised on the basis of arousal theory and incongruity resolution theory, signifying that it is a cognitive problem-solving process. This proves that humour is not only a fleeting moment of personal expression but is a manifestation of centuries of conditioning.
The oppressor caste-dominated, owned, and controlled Indian comedy circuit runs on its allegiance to casteist aesthetics sans ethics, where laughter is used as a form of mass media to manipulate the audience through false objectivity and fabricated universality. To perform political satire without taking into account the casteist society which fuels such agonising politics is purposeful disregard towards both politics and satire, and contemporary caste-privileged comedians have been ‘meritoriously’ acing this.
Comedians constantly assert their caste-supremacist identities and upbringing as the pre-defined norm, without taking into account that 80% of the population of the country comprises of Bahujans. Such comedians brazenly make jokes about affirmative action and uphold the brutal exploitation of the casteist system while deriving privileges from their unearned, inherited surnames and caste networks. While the male comedians are openly sexist, the so-called feminism of many female comedians fails to accept that intersectionality is not an optional feature of feminism; that intersectionality is the essence of feminism.
If a violator apologises after decades and provides no reparations, it is considered exceedingly delayed and inadequate. Only in India, even this bare minimum apology is considered to be a burden on the casteist person who is then applauded for the same. Amidst the series of gaslighting jibes masquerading as apologies and sarcasm – and failing to be both – the accountability is naught and the imbecile defense inundated.
While upper-caste women rightfully understand that the trauma of sexual harassment can be brought up decades later, here, they gaslight Bahujans by mentioning that the casteist tweets are old, conveniently forgetting the unaddressed trauma they extended to Bahujans for years. Insensitively, they claim for forgiveness stating they were casteist back in school or college; egocentrically forgetting that for most Bahujan students the same educational institutions are inaccessible and discriminatory leaving them with lifelong trauma, denial of opportunities and mental health issues. No apology can make up for these lost childhoods that deserved joy and dignity. The date on which this article is being written marks two years to Payal Tadvi’s suicide being termed ‘institutional murder’ by the medical fraternity.
The collective intellect and conscience of any society can be comprehended by the art it acknowledges. However, here, Bahujans who have been relegated to the margins by the dominant castes are constantly mocked, be it for the lack or the presence of good English or taste of music. The oppressor castes do not consider the marginalised to be complete humans with feelings and ambitions, and cunningly derive sadistic pleasure by ridiculing their identities for the unreasonable whims and insecurities of the privileged.
And if a Bahujan like former chief minister Mayawati attains a position of power after an immense struggle, self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ comedians and journalists pass disgraceful comments on her personal attributes without ever engaging with her policies. This is particularly demoralising for Bahujan women for it sends a message that no matter how hard we work, no matter where we reach, there will always be humiliation thrust upon us by the oppressors.
So-called upper-caste Indians take pride in how they opposed the Simon Commission because it had no Indian representation. Such a rudimentary argument is still incomprehensible for their ‘meritorious’ minds when it comes to the zilch Bahujan representation in these comedy circuits owing to systemic violence. Inability to notice violence makes you violent. It is stupefying that such ‘meritorious’ beings have failed to fathom that it is not the responsibility of the oppressed to fight oppression. It is the responsibility of the oppressors to stop oppressing and further provide reparations.
Forcing the marginalised to laugh at traumatising gibberish masquerading as ‘comedy’ is violence. Gaslighting the oppressed to accept their ridicule as humour is abuse. Critiquing those who are casteist is upholding comedy as art.
The privileged need to read the works of Mahatma Jyotirao Phule to comprehend that humour and sarcasm are a tool of the oppressed to retaliate against the oppressors. With all their inherited education and exposure, if the privileged cannot joke without mocking the oppressed, they are indeed devoid of any merit.
And in their meritlessness, they dare not think of moral policing the angst of Bahujans. The laughter of Bahujans is resistance, the existence of Bahujans is assertion. And if your self-proclaimed meritorious mind fails to register this, the joke is on you.
Ankita Apurva was born with a pen and a sickle.