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Utsav Chakraborty harassment cases: Wake up call for comedians or social media shaming?

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Comedian Utsav Chakraborty, who has worked with the All India Bakchod (AIB), has been accused of sexual harassment. Some senior members of the stand-up comic industry have been accused of staying silent despite knowing about the allegations.

ThePrint asks: Utsav Chakraborty harassment cases: Wake up call for comedians or social media shaming?

Everybody seems to be fine with sexism till the time it isn’t exposed

Abijit Ganguly
Stand up comedian

I’m not sure if the term wake-up call for the industry fits here. The term ‘wake-up call’ has a different connotation. This is just one of those things that are outright horrible. Any remotely decent human being would know that they shouldn’t do something like this.

What has happened is not a case where somebody was trying to be woke or funny. It is just creepy behaviour and has nothing to do with trying to be edgy as a comedian. It is just a horrible person doing horrible things.

What is more disappointing is that people seem to have been aware of it, but nobody cared or spoke about it, while Utsav continued to work in the industry.

This should definitely lead to some legal implications. We cannot just sit and say this person has learnt his lesson because of the public shaming on Twitter. That is not done. I think police can themselves file a suo moto FIR in such cases, but I’m not sure. Of course, what the victims themselves want must be given primary importance.

The AIB statement was a knee-jerk reaction. I am sure it must not have been easy to remove every single video in which Utsav is featured because there are certain financial implications to it too. But what is most disconcerting is that the girl seems to have communicated this offline to the people from the AIB, but no one paid any heed to it. Everybody seems to be fine with sexism or misogyny till the time it is not exposed online.

I’m not sure if it’s fair to say that this is a comedy industry issue because all industries have some bad human beings. It’s definitely disappointing, and it does taint the industry a little bit however much we would like to think otherwise. It would be quite natural that some parents may feel apprehensive about their daughters attending open mic nights, or even aspiring to be a comedian, and may say ‘oh we read about this today and the industry doesn’t seem to be good’.

Unless there is a complaint from either side, it’s mudslinging on social media

D. Sivanandan
Former DGP, Maharashtra

In my opinion, if there is clear evidence that Utsav Chakraborty has done this to anybody, then it is a computer-based crime that amounts to cyber stalking, cyber bullying, and cyber threatening. The women who have been offended can file a complaint with evidence.

In case the person concerned does not approach the police, present her evidence and file a complaint, and is only talking about it in the public domain, the alleged perpetrator too can complain against her for character assassination or defamation.

If the comedian concerned thinks these allegations are false, he should step ahead and file a case. But, unless there is a complaint from either side, it is just mudslinging on social media and there is very little that the police can do about it to intervene.

Naming and shaming has become the latest trend on social media. Every day, there is something new happening in the area and disciplining on social media has become very difficult. People on Twitter assume pseudo names, or have anonymous accounts. There is a need to bring some discipline in this area, but it is not just the job of the police, but of every person.

Naming and shaming in itself is neither a crime nor a punishment. There has to be a specific complaint with evidence for a specific punishment.

Is a social media call-out effective? For comedy, sure

Harnidh Kaur

Utsav is not the problem. He’s a (rather vile) symptom of it. The comedy circuit in India has been performative in its ally-ship, responses, and accountability. It’s especially frustrating because they take centre stage in any feminist conversation by the virtue of their social capital, use that platform as a smokescreen and justification for their actions, and finally let the women who trusted them take the flack for their terrible actions. It’s a vicious cycle that no one externally can reform. Is a social media call-out effective? For comedy, sure. Social media is where comics build their audiences. A boycott there will impact him. Is it enough? I don’t know. I would like to say that things like these should be handled legally, but the legal system isn’t equipped with the capacity of empathy and nuance required to deal with cases like these. The legal system also shouldn’t be the first resort. When someone’s response is “but this isn’t technically illegal”, the direct corollary is “if this law didn’t exist, I’d to much worse”.

The comedy circuit needs to toss its own trash out. They need to stop being complicit in the silences. They need to talk to each other. To demand that women keep raising their voices when no one wants to listen and improve is ludicrous (and frankly, incredibly violent). The onus of making this better is on them.

We need comedians to create ‘woke’ content but keep the female narrative in mind

File image of Gurmehar Kaur | CommonsGurmehar Kaur
Author and student activist

Most of us came of age in the era of social media. Given the rise in the number of ‘influencers’ and a whole new industry coming up around the same concept, it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone how much of our lives is influenced by the popular narrative on social media.

Indian TV worsened with shows like Sasural Simar Ka and Bollywood went berserk in the pursuit of making 100-crore films, so we moved to the internet for better content. When this generation was using the net, there was barely any content that was made by young Indians for young Indians. Utsav Chakraborty and Shamir Reuben were some of the guys creating fresh content. They made ‘woke’ content that mimicked and normalised Western liberal ideals.

Young India was falling in love, getting its heart broken, falling into depression, suffering anxiety and was drinking or smoking to cope with it – all these things that we had been conditioned to believe was taboo. People like Utsav and Shamir, among many other comedians, made relatable content that spoke about just these things and normalised them by taking the talking the stigma away. It’s just while in the process of being ‘woke’ and hitting on girls and assuming it’s progressive to do so, these men with their heads full of their newly acquired popularity and power forgot the concept of consent and boundaries. It is a wake-up call for the comedians. It’s not the shaming that is enough, we need you comedians to create content and push forth versions of being ‘woke’ that keep in mind the female narrative. A society is truly ‘woke’ and progressive when the women are safe, have the freedom to speak and have their voices are heard.

AIB should answer if their members were informed of Utsav’s actions

Abhineet Mishra
Stand-up comedian

I have been following the issue since last evening and I think it is about time that this behaviour was called out. We have voiced our support for the MeToo movement, it is time we acknowledge and support the movement in our industry now. This is a critical moment for the stand-up comedy circuit, which is a young vibrant space.

This is a moment for introspection. No degree of being woke can justify such condemnable behaviour. I think this particular event was just the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully, the space will be cleaner and safer after this.

There is an expectation to show an element of solidarity to a person from your own industry, but I have no sympathy for Utsav. He has made a lot of errors and he should definitely pay for it. His string of tweets last night was avoidable. You have been caught red-handed. I don’t think it can get any worse than this. One thing you should not do is try and justify your actions. Portraying yourself as a victim is the last thing that you should do.

AIB too should answer if any of their members were informed of Utsav’s actions and yet continued to collaborate. If established, this is complicity and requires better action than just unlisting videos featuring Utsav or releasing public statements.

By Manasi Phadke, associate editor at ThePrint.

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