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Search: India’s Sense Of Humor; Result: Not Found

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While we can laugh our hearts out watching a Jimmy Kimmel show literally roasting President Trump, we can only dream of such a programme in India. Despite being one of the biggest democracies in the world, we have to resort to some sort of self-censorship especially when we are talking about ‘politics’, ‘sex’, ‘religion’ etc. While other countries use comedy as a weapon of criticism, in India, weapons are used against comedians.

Below are the recent incidents where the government used their favourite weapons like sedition and defamation to literally shut up the comedians:

AIB’s Roast

First of its kind in India, the AIB Knockout was quick to be surrounded by controversy. This show was watched by the Maharashtra police, members of censor board and various religious communities through the lenses of obscenity, religious sentiments and vulgarity. Apparently, shows like these do not gel well with our culture and ‘conservative’ nature of the Indian television and film industry. They feared about what image we are sending across as a country to the rest of the world. Or what if ‘bache dekh lenge’ who are likely to be ‘spoiled’ after watching the show. (PS: they did have a disclaimer stating that this show was intended for viewers above 18 years). After the show was out, Bollywood personalities who were the part of the roast like Karan Johar, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor were threatened by the Maharashtra Navrinman Sena (MNS) and the NCP stating they would ban the release of all their films unless they apologized.

Increased threats, police FIRs and political pressure made sure that the show was pulled down from YouTube. This incident not just limits the freedom of expression in one of the largest democracies, but also puts forward a question – that are we as a country not ready for such satirical shows? Are we not adult enough to watch such shows? Sadly, incidents like these do suppress and discourage comedy groups from using their full potential and limiting their shows to suit the ‘Indian culture’ and mindset.

Likewise, Tanmay Bhatt and Rohan Joshi, in an interview with The Times of India stated that this controversy intimidated them as they had dozens of cases against them and lived in a constant fear because any statement or unwelcome comment could land them in jail. In fact, that was the reason they chose not to do a live show for a year as they feared they’d get negative reactions. Even with the thought of having a second roast, lot of people replied saying that ‘It’s not gonna happen again!’

Kiku Sharda as Gurmeet Rahim Singh

Imagine this situation. There is a fancy dress competition, and you are dressed as your favourite character and choose to imitate him. That very point, the police arrives and says- “hey, you have been arrested for imitating someone and hurting their sentiments”.

However absurd this sounds, this has been a reality in the mushrooming stand-up comedy profession where stand-up comedians have been arrested solely for imitating well-known personalities, religious gurus and hurting the religious feelings of their community. Loads of examples have come across which only point to the fact the low tolerance level of some communities and how easily a piece of humour can be turned into a sensational drama in the name of religion.

Recently, the popular comedian from ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’ was arrested for dressing up and imitating Rahim Singh Gurmeet, the godman who was arrested on rape charges. His act seemed to have hurt the religious sentiments of Singh’s followers. He was arrested by the Haryana police under Section 295A (outrageous religious sentiments). Likewise, was the case with Tanmay Bhatt’s Snapchat video imitating well-known personalities like Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar. The video was welcomed with outrageous comments on Twitter, BJP and Shiv Sena filing police complaints, asking Google and Youtube to ban the video and demands being made to get him arrested.

A result of such intolerance has made comedians, producers and sponsors of TV channels wary of what will be suitable and acceptable. For example, Star Plus asked a participant of the reality show  ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’, to redo his act as the earlier one included imitating PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi. According to comedian Shyam Rangeela, the production house feared his act might spark protest against the channel.

Azeem Trivedi’s Cartoons Against Corruption

There is a growing trend in India where the government is trying to take control of what all we are exposed to and there is an absolute ‘no-no’ to constructive criticism. Which by the way is our right as citizens living in a democracy. Any satirical form of piece or art, which no matter how accurately presents the country’s situation, are quick to invite controversy and can land you in jail.

So remember, with freedom of speech and expression comes a bunch of problems to deal with. Only if you are ready to face those, go ahead!

The cartoonist Azeem Trivedi was slammed with a number of lawsuits based on laws like the Information technology Act 2008, Indian Penal Code 124A (Sedition) and Prevention of Insults of National Honour Act, 1971 after he drew a cartoon which mocked corruption in Indian government. Well, in this case, he was arrested and was soon out on bail as well. But, it gets extreme and unacceptable when such incidents involve beating an innocent person to their death. In Pune, a Muslim IT professional was thrashed to death by members of Hindu Rashtra Sena for posting derogatory photos of Shivaji and Bal Thackeray. While the Sena has denied their hands in the murder, this incident sparked communal tension in the city between the Hindus and Muslims.

Tattwa Satpathy’s comedy on religion

As stated by Tanmay Bhatt, the safety of their fans and themselves was the reason they did not host a live show after the AIB Knockout. Comedians have time and again mentioned that their acts are purely for entertainment purposes and in no way intend to hurt sentiments of any culture or religion. But, that obviously does not suffice in a diverse country like India where people are just not willing to take a joke. Increasingly, comedians are scripting and self-censoring their shows keeping in mind topics which might trigger communal tension, hurt the government or might be seen as ‘anti-national’.

A popular Odia comedian, Tattwa Prakash Satpathy, was attacked and his face was inked by an outrageous group which believed he allegedly commented on Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of Odisha. Another Telugu comedian, Venu, was attacked by a community for hurting their religious sentiments on the Telugu channel. They further filed a police complaint against him for hurting their sentiments.

There are many shows and movies which get away by making sexist and racist jokes. So, why is that when it comes to religion or country, these jokes make people super serious and turn to violence? Ideally, no comedian or citizen for that matter should be afraid or think twice before posting something satirical or critical on their own social media accounts. It is their opinion and view, which they have a right to have. In an interview with The New Indian Express, comedian, Sorabh Pant says that there are times when he gets physical threats every week, which kind off gets exhausting to deal with.

As our very own PM Modi has said, these days humour can be a risky thing. He goes about saying that the reason for the absence of humour in public life is fear. Well, that’s the case not just for him, but for everyone in the country.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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