The India Vir Das Forgot About: An Open Letter to Comics on Caste
‘Vir chose not to talk about caste, but is it a choice? It’s a privilege not to think and speak about it.’
(Comedian Vir Das's monologue on 'Two Indias' has taken the country by storm, eliciting mixed reactions from different sections of society. While many have lauded him, others have accused him of defaming the country on a global stage. But what Vir failed to mention was a third India, the caste-ridden Indian society that comics and the entertainment world often turn a blind eye to. In that light, here is an open letter by Sanjay Rajoura to Indian comics.)
I don’t have any problem with what Vir Das said in America. I have a problem with what my elected representatives are saying in India. The outrage against Vir is the story of India today. Vir may not be the wisest but he definitely is wiser than the outrage. He spoke from his heart, something that most passionate Indians feel. But any story about India cannot be told without deconstructing the monster of caste. Vir chose not to talk about it, but is it a choice? I don’t think so. It’s a privilege not to think and speak about it.
In the recently concluded T20 World Cup, they even got Indian cricketers to do the knee. A team that is galvanised by Shastris, Kohlis, Sharmas and Gangulis. The cherry on top is Jay Shah, whose dad is against nepotism. Why then, is it so difficult for comics to talk about caste? Caste is in your face, in every sphere of life. The argument that comics give is that they make jokes about their own experiences. Am I expecting too much if I expect privilege to make jokes on itself?
A Joke Must Not Pander to Privilege
I don’t have a problem with Vir Das. I have a problem with privilege. Privilege refuses to look at itself in the mirror. People accusing Vir of defaming India will probably never visit their own privilege. That’s the game here. Vir Das is actually looking passionately towards a lost India. But a lost India for whom? Urban upper-caste Hindus and Muslims. Vir Das is one of the most important voices we have. But it’s a voice of privilege. Having said that, none of what Vir said was untrue.
He talks about two Indias much like a lot of nostalgic Hindus and Muslims talk about the ‘Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb’ (a phrase used to denote the fusion of Hindu and Muslim cultures in India), which is an upper-caste understanding of their privilege. Unfortunately, this narrative is never questioned.
Today, we have a breed of “comics” who say “don’t attack us, we are just making a joke”.
A joke has to ask questions and not service the injustice and pander to the privilege. Standup comedy, unfortunately, has become a part of that popular culture that says, “Hit hai to fit hai” (if it’s a hit, it’s alright).
How many Indias do we have? I guess many. But the one India I don’t need to guess about is the brutal, casteist India. The important question here is, who is offended by Vir Das’s two Indias? What exactly is their caste location?
Quit the Mayawati 'Jokes', Dear Comics
Dear comics, do talk about your stories, because from a position of privilege, those stories are actually funny. But once in a while, do revisit your Mayawati ‘jokes’. Please do, haath jod ke vinti hai aap se (I request you with folded hands). Making jokes on a Dalit woman, who came through in Uttar Pradesh and became a political stalwart is exactly what you should stand for. Understand this, dear comics: you are the ones who must tell the emperor that he is naked. When you stop doing that, you are just a Sooraj Barjatya film that the family can go together to watch and enjoy.
(Sanjay Rajoura is a comedian who is also part of the 'Aisi Taisi Democracy' team. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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