Mind Your Casteism, Dear Celebs: Bahujan Twitter is Here to Stay
Increased number of Bahujans on social media help in asserting identity, calling out casteism & finding solidarity.
Is it okay if casteism is passed off as a “casual joke”? Bahujans on social media say “no more!”
Over the past few days, several artists, actors and comedians have been called out for casteist jokes they have made in the past, in interviews, during comedy shows and their public performances or interactions. The list of celebrities includes comedians Neville Shah, Abish Mathew, Atul Khatri, and actors Salman Khan, Randeep Hooda and Yuvika Chaudhary.
The topics involved mocking constitutional reservations, ridiculing lower-caste occupations, etc. One running gag, in particular, was abusing Mayawati, the BSP supremo and four-time Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister.
While some among those apologised after being called out, Randeep Hooda has been removed as the ambassador of the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) — an environmental treaty of the United Nations. #ArrestRandeepHooda was one of the top trends on Twitter on 28 May.
In an old video that has now gone viral, Hooda claims he will make a "dirty joke" and sets up a premise of Mayawati walking down a street with twins (aged a few years apart).
When she makes the children’s age gap clear to an inquiring stranger, his reply becomes the 'punch line', "Someone has been there twice?". Randeep is seen laughing in the video, the audience also cheers him on.
‘Power of Assertion, Solidarity on Social Media’
While some have defended the artists saying the jokes were made in the past and they have evolved in their understanding of caste since then. But many Bahujans say it is important to underpin the casual casteism passed off as ‘jokes’ now that the oppressed community has found solidarity and power of assertion on social media.
Anurag Minus Verma, podcast host, who belongs to Dalit community, says:
“There was no Bahujan representation on the internet till 3-4 years ago. It is only then when Dalit-Bahujans could freely assert themselves. The slurs and insults are not new for us, we have been hearing them since ages. But now, since our Bahujan assertion is so strong that can now call out the insensitiveness of the dominant castes in public.”
Delhi-based rapper Naveen Koomar, belonging to the Dalit community, says, “Time and again, this has happened and will happen. The fact that DBA (Dalit Bahujan Adivasi) voices did not have access to the virtual stage when internet started coming in, or say DBA artists who highlight these issues don’t get gigs easily by the organisers for commercial reasons, makes it even more important for this to be called out.”
“We don’t have to ignore the fact that these jokes form the base of their comic career they’ve put up over the years, and if it has come this far, means people had no issue with that joke back then. In a society that has casteist slurs rooted in its sub conscience, it becomes all the more important to call them out and tell them, this will not be tolerated.”Naveen Koomar, Rapper
Koomar, whose powerful song ‘Kab tak sahenge’ after the Hathras rape case had gone viral, adds, “Why does an artist making casteist joke get gigs on gigs, and is not called off the stage, is rather appreciated and greeted with claps, whereas artists from the community or those highlighting this problem through their art not even given gigs.”
Is it Important to Acknowledge ‘Unlearning’?
Sankul Sonawane, an 18-year-old Dalit student activist, says, “It's important to acknowledge that the comedians may have unlearnt their casteism over the years, but the onus lies on them to prove it to us that they have actually changed. Out of the very few celebrities who did apologise, almost none of them acknowledged the caste factor or even apologised to Mayawati, the person they belittled. If they're not willing to even address their obvious casteism and sexism towards the Dalit community, or Mayawati herself, then the apology is nothing but a PR campaign done to save their image. It doesn't mean anything to us if the apology is not addressed to us.”
“It is also important to note where the change is happening? Is it happening in their work? Have they done anything to change themselves? Have they promoted any Bahujan comic or artist? Have they started making satire on their Savarna ecosystem which is oppressive? So, how should we believe that they have reformed? We also demand that there is a collective reflection to understand that there is a problem of casteism and lack of representation in such comedy.”
Tejas Harad,an OBC social commentator says, “If they have really changed, why did they not apologise on their own? They could have owned up to making casteist jokes in the past and apologised for it without the Bahujans having to call them out. Even other upper castes did not criticise them till we raised a voice.”
Unless we hold people accountable, they don’t change. We have to create that environment where a progressive conversation on caste is happening. We have achieved that to some extent with gender. There are still sexist jokes but there is enough outrage over those. It’s not about cancelling, it’s about starting a conversation.
‘The Numbers of Bahujans on Twitter Have Increased’
Harad says it has become easier to trend a hashtag on casteism or get solidarity on social media because of the sheer number of Bahujans on Twitter.
“It is easier to galvanise solidarity among Dalits-Bahujans over their issues on social media. If 2-3 people spoke about an issue, it would be easy for everyone to ignore. But now, activists like Dilip Mandal with thousands of followers, can start a discussion on such issues very easily. And there are many who join in the conversation. There are lot more Bahujans on Twitter who are ready to talk about caste issues.”Tejas Harad
#ArrestRandeepHooda was one of the top trends since his video went viral with many criticising his comments on Mayawati casteist and sexist.
According to CSDS' Social Media and Political Behavior Survey 2019, Dalits accounted for just eight percent of all Twitter users in India in 2017. This increased to 12 percent in 2019.
The increase in the presence of OBCs on Twitter has been even more significant, from 32 percent of all users in India in 2017 to 37 percent in 2019.
However, the proportion of Adivasis on Twitter has reduced from 10 percent to 6 percent, though there has been an increase in absolute numbers.
According to the survey, the percentage of Dalits using Twitter daily or weekly has increased from below 1 percent of the adult population in 2014 to 5 percent in 2019. The increase among Adivasis is similar - one percent in 2014 to five percent in 2019. Among OBCs the increase has been from 2 percent to 6 percent.
If one goes by this survey’s estimates, Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis could possibly account for close to 1 crore Twitter users.
It's not just about the numbers of Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis on social media. An equally important factor is the interplay between social media usage and political views.
The CSDS survey shows that NDA's lead over UPA among Dalits and OBCs decreases with rise in social media usage.
Dalits: The NDA has a lead of 12 percentage points among Dalits with no social media exposure, eight points among those with low exposure, 12 points among those with moderate exposure and just four percentage points among Dalits with high social media exposure.
OBCs: NDA has a lead of 33 points among OBCs with no social media exposure, 30 among those with low exposure, 31 among those with moderate social media exposure and 27 percentage points among OBCs with high social media exposure.
However, this is the reverse among Adivasis and Upper Castes, with NDA's lead increasing with greater social media usage.
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