By Bhanvi Satija:
The National Law University of Delhi held its annual cultural fest – Kairos – from 20th to 22nd March 2015. On 22nd March Abish Matthew, the infamous stand-up comedian and the host of the show ‘Son of Abish’, which is aired on a YouTube channel, performed there. He also featured in the much controversial AIB Roast that took place in Mumbai earlier this year.
I had gone to NLU-Delhi for Abish Mathew’s show and, luckily enough, because of this, I had the opportunity to experience the freedom of speech and expression debate in our country – live.
Here’s a brief summary of what happened:
The show started around 5.45 pm, and approximately fifteen minutes into the act, a group of girls showed him the finger and walked out of the audience. Soon after, they returned with more people and a placard reading, “Get out Sexist Pig” – to protest against the sexist jokes that he had cracked. All of this caused the show to end in an abrupt manner. In the auditorium, a bunch of students from the audience booed at the girls for ‘spoiling the show’, and I am sure that the debate must have continued even after I left.
Here’s what I think are the two sides of the story:
1. Abish Mathew’s tone was not sarcastic or judgemental when he cracked the jokes about women. These jokes labelled the women as multi-taskers (explaining how they would look at dirty cobwebs and plan when to clean them, while having sex), or when he cracked a joke about domestic violence in India – none of which I found funny. This is when the protestors got up and left the room. (However, that doesn’t mean that the rest of his jokes were of the same kind.) I, honestly, didn’t find him funny throughout the show, but there were things I genuinely found funny (his remark on Section 66A and the joke on how he dealt with a mosquito when on stage). In fact, I even appreciate how maturely he dealt with the protestors – he is probably used to handling such situations.
2. The protestors on the other hand are obviously right on their part and have the right to show their dissent. I just wish, however, that they had done it maturely – instead of holding the protest in the middle of the show, they could have waited outside the auditorium, or just kept it subtle. After all, one cannot rule out the fact that they were sitting in the auditorium for a stand-up comedy performance voluntarily, and they ought to have some degree of tolerance – and also – they need to consider the fact that what an artist says or does on stage does not necessarily reflect his personal opinions and stands on issues.
In simple words, this issue is complicated. I agree to an extent with both the parties. I know that both of them are right. So, then, where do we draw the line? How do we balance this debate? I, fortunately, experienced this debate in a room full of 300 people, but this regularly happens at a worldwide level.
What happened outside the auditorium heated the argument further, and also gave me an insight into another aspect of this debate.
So, while, another group of students booed the group of protestors and vice-a-versa, my first reaction was to laugh at it – it’s entertaining right? I thought so too, till my sister pointed out a very important aspect: one cannot teach tolerance by being intolerant – just like an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
And, I am glad that she said this because in that one moment, I realised where I had gone wrong. Yet, I still haven’t found a solution to such a situation. I support feminism and the right to freedom of speech and expression. But, when both of these principles clash against each other – where do we go? How do people like my friends and I react?
I think my sister concluded it nicely when she kept repeating this question on our way back home, “How do we strike a balance between being a liberalist and a feminist?”
And no, as easy as it might sound – being a ‘liberal feminist’ is not the answer.