Last week the Delhi High Court upheld a ruling that shut down the Comedy Central television channel for ten days ( a ban they recently lifted while they ‘reassess the case’). This ruling was based on recommendations from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and according to the various reports I have read, the Ministry was in a huff because two programs (“Stand Up Club” and “Popcorn) that aired on the channel contained “dialogues denigrating women”.
Now, I have NOT viewed either of the programs that inspired this brouhaha, and so I do not know if these shows were witty and relevant, or if they were just a meaningless bunch of sex-jokes strung together to entertain the mind of the average 18-year-old male, and I most certainly do not know if the humor depicted in any way denigrates women. That said I am pissed off with all of this for two reasons.
The first is that this ruling is an obvious denial of my freedom of speech. As a comedian my goal is, and will always be, to push the boundaries of everything – including what the moral police considers ‘good taste’. I remember when I first performed my live show in India, a ‘taste-maker’ in Bangalore actually told my producer that he (yes it was a man) thought it wasn’t proper for a woman to talk about her ‘private parts. Well see – that’s the joke right there. An old guy with nothing better to do other than telling a young performer how to express herself.
For those of you unfamiliar with comedy (mainly the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting), please understand that it is not simply a set of one-liners. Our job is to speak the truth, to question it, and to ultimately make you question it as well. And if we happen to mention human genitalia to make our point so be it. I can’t speak for the comedians at Comedy Central but if that is indeed what they were trying to do then they have been unjustly and harshly punished. And by punishing them you send a message to all of us that says we should play it safe and do as we are told because that is the only way to survive.
For a country with such an ancient tradition of art and culture this is frightening. Don’t get me wrong, there is a certain line that I don’t want anyone crossing – people who incite hate and violence against anything or anyone need to be checked – but a bunch of comedians who were probably doing neither?
The other reason I have my knickers in a bunch is that these Ministry guys have used women’s sensibilities as a crutch for their shenanigans. And while I appreciate the Ministry’s eagerness to get on the bandwagon of protecting women’s rights, I would like them to know something.
As a woman I am not shocked by sex jokes on TV, nor am I afraid of them. The reason I am not afraid of them is because they are locked in a box that I am free to turn off at any given moment. A box that can not possibly follow me down a dark road and violate me in anyway. So thanks gentlemen but this is not offending my womanliness in anyway.
What I am blown away by however is that sex related jokes in Indian media (entertainment or otherwise) have come to the notice of the Ministry just this recently! Are these dudes the only ones who haven’t noticed dialogues denigrating women have been all over TV, the movies, in advertisements and beyond – like forevs. Are they the only ones so blissfully unaware of our screenwriters and songwriters and choreographers tireless efforts to objectify women? Did that just slip by you chaps or is Bollywood too big even for you big shots to dare take on?
Thank you big, strong, manly men of the Ministry for trying to make it look like you care about my sisters and me but did any women actually protest these shows? I may be proved wrong, but I am willing to bet not a single woman complained about this shit. And the reasons they didn’t is because they (the women) have a sense of humor and because they don’t have time for rubbish. They are too busy working, and raising kids and protecting themselves on the street from REAL threats because the police and the government and the justice system won’t do their jobs. And how can we expect them to when they are all engaged in providing extensive protection to themselves and shutting down comedy channels.
What has happened is scary. Like horror movie style creepy. That a group of performers could be so easily silenced, that I can barely find a handful of articles about this online, and that the entertainment industry is not up in arms about this all says something about the largest democracy doesn’t it? It says that we are a country that does not care about its artists. Not one bit.