HOW WOULD YOU react if someone made a joke on rape? A majority of women would find it uncomfortable. In liberal circles, it would be uncool. Feminists of all stripes would want it to be a crime under the IPC. The media would make a story out of it if a sufficiently important person said it. In India, it is agreed that a rape joke is distasteful. Yet, most men would think nothing of a rape joke; it is what they have grown up with in school and Hindi movies, but they are smart enough to know when to laugh at one and when not, depending on the people around.
How would you then react if sexual assault victims went around telling rape jokes on stage? And they don’t do it to make a case against such jokes but because it is cathartic. Right now, in Canada, such a tour is happening. It is called ‘Rape Is Real and Everywhere: a Comedy Show’ and to quote a line from one of the comedians there: “If you don’t laugh at these jokes, I got raped for nothing.” In an interview to The Globe And Mail, Emma Cooper—one of those who came up with this idea and who is also a sexual assault victim—when asked whether only survivors had the right to tell rape jokes, replied, “As comedians, we’re firm that anyone can tell any kind of a joke. But you’ve got to take responsibility and think about your audience. People don’t remember that there are survivors in probably every audience that they’ve ever told jokes to.”
The only criterion to make a rape joke is therefore decency, but the comedian has to decide this and not the audience. Did Tanmay Bhat cross that line when he made a small clip spoofing Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar? Unless you are a really boring Amrish-Puri-the-father type of person, chances are you found it funny. If you are a boring person, you are probably too miserable to laugh anyway. But that, in fact, does not matter anymore because now the question before us is whether Bhat has the right to make such a joke at all. The answer should be clear to anyone who wants to make a joke in his lifetime without police cases and thugs after him, but unfortunately here it is not, because India lives inside a giant farce hole and such instances show how much we revel in it.
Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar haven’t spoken yet and so we must assume that even if they didn’t like it, they don’t want to beat up Bhat or put him in jail. There is, however, an army of second-rate politicians going to war with FIRs, defamation suits and threats. People from Bollywood, who relentlessly complain of censorship, talk without any irony about the depravity of such a joke. What do they think the Censor Board feels when they snip out ‘ga#$du’, ‘ch#tia’, ‘ku#ia’, ‘ra#di’ from their scenes? There is also the most farce hole argument of all—that you shouldn’t do this to icons, suggesting that those with lesser haloes are okay fodder for distasteful things. Like the good old Sardarji, perhaps.