New Delhi: Several Indian comedians and digital influencers have been called out on social media, in the past few days, for making casteist and sexist jokes or tweets in the past.
The trend began after a clip of comedian Neville Shah surfaced, where he joked about caste-based reservations. The clip was part of his stand-up set on a comedy programme that was aired on Amazon Prime.
In the 59-second video, Shah talked about his doctor’s ‘incompetency’ because the latter drew a venn diagram instead of a kidney. He then said that the doctor also walked with a limp and claimed: “Ya toh ye Dr. House hai aur mummy bach gayi (either he’s Dr. House and my mother is saved)…or quota admission.” He further criticised reservation-based admission, claiming that he “didn’t understand quota admission when there is a matter of life involved”.
The clip has been shared widely on social media, with several people criticising Shah for his casteist comments.
— Ritesh (@outcastritesh) May 16, 2021
How is it ok to mock someone's disability? What has the Dr's limp got to do with their ability?
The casteist remarks are completely unacceptable.
How do you know the Dr was not from management seat?
In 2021. I am just so ANGRY.
Shame on the audience https://t.co/kjOH5P61OH
— Dr Soumitra Pathare সৌমিত্র சௌமித்ரா பாடாரே (@netshrink) May 17, 2021
A day after the clip surfaced, Shah issued an apology for the video and said that he “had no intention to hurt or insult any community”.
“I apologise for the trauma, the anger and duress that the joke has caused a lot of people. I am sorry,” wrote the comedian.
I am sorry. pic.twitter.com/wGKVw0kRcP
— Neville Shah (@craziebawa) May 17, 2021
Old tweets resurface
However, following this incident, many other such clips and tweets of comedians and influencers were unearthed by activists.
Several old tweets posted by comedian Shubham Gaur, brother of influencer and comedian Saloni Gaur, resurfaced on social media where he had made derogatory comments on women’s bodies, the Muslim community and caste-based reservation.
In one such tweet, posted in 2015, he wrote: “pro Muslims please go to Pakistan”.
After he was lambasted on social media for his tweets, Gaur apologised for them and said that he is “utterly ashamed to have thought and written such filth” and that he has “learned, evolved & changed drastically from those years to now”.
ThePrint reached his sister Saloni Gaur on the matter, but she refused to comment.
Meanwhile, an old tweet of popular comedian Abish Mathew also resurfaced where he made fun of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, a Dalit leader. As a result, the hashtag ‘Arrest Abish Mathew’ was also trending on Twitter Wednesday. The comedian has yet to issue a statement on the matter but deleted the tweet concerned.
Similarly, a video clip of comedian Sourabh Pant emerged where he could be seen joking about a Muslim family.
Prime Video not letting the video record.
Saurabh Pant saying how a gamily of 6 traveling on a bike belong to only one community.@nah_im_abdulla @vaniIlaessence https://t.co/fDLGszcY1S pic.twitter.com/TjfMFmxBb3
— R (@wilde_be_wildin) May 18, 2021
This social media reckoning, however, was not limited to comedians alone. Actor Munmun Dutta, of the Hindi serial Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma fame, was also recently called out for using a casteist slur in a YouTube video.
There were widespread calls for Dutta’s arrest for her video and she was booked under relevant sections of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
In an apology issued since then, the actor said she was “misinformed about the meaning of the slur due to her language barrier”.
— Munmun Dutta (@moonstar4u) May 10, 2021
What other comedians say
According to members of the comedy fraternity, however, calling out people for jokes made in the past is unfair.
In a long thread, comedian Azeem Banatwalla said that calling out people for jokes they made in the past does not acknowledge that most comedians learnt better over the years.
“If you find an experienced comic making a joke today that is outright racist, casteist, anything else. By all means – let them feel your wrath. But reacting to jokes from 5-10 years ago as if they were made today in my humble opinion, is counterproductive”, tweeted Banatwalla.
Comedian Neeti Palta also echoed the sentiment and said that making a joke about a person does not mean that it is against the entire community.
“A joke about a person doesn’t necessarily become about the whole community. If I joke about my dad who is a fauji, it doesn’t mean I’m anti the entire Indian army! If I joke about a man doesn’t mean I’m anti-all men. We joke about everyone,” Palta told ThePrint.
“By that logic, we are against all religions, castes, colours, sizes and whatever other divisive labels you can throw at us. Am I defending all jokes? No. I’m sure not all are in good taste. And if they are still being performed, by all means, call them out”, she added.
Kunal Kamra, another popular comedian, said that the comedy fraternity needed to be indoctrinated on the evils of the caste system.
“We’ve to acknowledge our caste privilege and as a community not be a disservice to a much larger conversation. A mic is a weapon of mass creation thus ignorance isn’t an option,” said Kamra in a tweet.
Meanwhile, podcast host Anurag Minus Verma, who also writes on Dalit issues, said that such casteist slurs have been used against Dalits to discredit them and dehumanise them and need to be called out.
“These are the reasons why we see so much of Dalit suicide happening in medical and engineering colleges, be it Payal Tadvi, Anil Meena. Earlier Twitter used to be a savarna dominated space, there was no Dalit assertion and people were watching it quietly, but now due to Bahujan consciousness, they have created a dominance on Twitter and social media and are calling out things that have been normalised since a long time,” Verma told ThePrint.
“These comedians claim to be different from Kapil Sharma, they claim to be more ‘woke’ but one can see what kind of wokeness they are preaching in real life,” he added.