Joker And Mahatma Gandhi: What Should One Remind Us Of The Other?

These topics become mine, for articles on Gandhi have occupied my Facebook wall more than any wishes of Gandhi Jayanti. Perhaps this is so because of the increasing online publications in India. On a different note, the movie Joker, which hit Indian screens on Oct 2, 2019, also opened to excellent reviews.

“I am fortunate to have watched this movie on the silver screen,” said a fan. Before I observe anything on the topics together, let me confess that I have not lived during the times of Gandhi, nor have I seen the Batman series. I just read a few writings of and about Gandhi, and watched the movie Joker – in a totally male-dominated theatre, by the way.

What could link these two characters? One was a hero who fought against British rule and was an ideal in himself, while the other appeared disturbing and at the same time, deeply touching our inner selves. Gandhi was a great orchestrator of protests, even started some with a pinch of salt. Joker was neither political, nor an organiser of protests. He just wanted to belong somewhere in society.

One was against violence in any form; the other felt it was okay to kill people who were ‘awful.’ One’s message was his life, while the other’s message was that his life itself was a comedy. One was real, while the other was fictional. What about one should remind us of the other?

What is unique about Joker is the character’s laughter. I laughed when I initially read some of Gandhi’s ideas – particularly the concept of trusteeship. The idea is such that whatever wealth is in excess with the rich owing to one’s family legacy, or trade and business, actually belonged to the community. So, they must be made to realise their trusteeship. This realisation has to be brought out by way of non-violence while one upholds this theory. But, this is not funny.

Economic equality has to be brought forth through self-suffering. Self-suffering should make the rich realise this truth – that rich are trustees of the wealth they possessed and not their owners. He wrote in the Young India, that a way to equal distribution is through a ‘peaceful revolution.’ Gandhi used this innovative tool of self-suffering to bring change on many other fronts in reality – like stopping the Calcutta riots during India’s independence. It is a political innovation that inspired many struggles.

The Joker does not understand what’s happening in Gotham city. The city, like every other, appeared to have a class-based divide, and dynamics related to it seem to be maturing. He lived in adverse conditions with the hope of being a stand-up comedian someday. Everyone laughed when he said as a child that he wanted to grow up into a stand-up comedian. But when he became one, no one did. He did not understand why.

He had a condition which made him laugh, and almost everyone who had to face his laughter punched him in the face. Joker is not a communist wanting to wage an ideological revolution, or a distrustful son waiting to avenge his father. After all, he did not know what to believe in. He did not understand why everyone was so rude towards him. He was isolated, bullied, and unacknowledged by society.

Gandhi was bullied too. A young lawyer was pushed out of the train at Pietermaritzburg railway station, South Africa. That was on racial grounds. He could not accept unjust laws. While Gandhi wanted us to believe in several things, like truth and non-violence, Joker never understood what was to be believed and what was not to be.

He just knew all of us were being told what was right and wrong, along with what we should laugh for and what was not to be laughed at. He was disturbed. He was helpless too. His laughter was the laughter of helplessness – helplessness to make sense of things happening around – the laughter which arises out of an inability to make sense at all.

Much of laughter is about mocking something – either another person, or an idea, or a system. The Joker’s laughter was that of mocking the system that existed – a system which regulated what was right or wrong, and also what is to be laughed at and not. What a lie was it that we were told comedy was subjective, but never practiced it.

We never appreciate why someone laughs at things we do not understand. We often can’t get them. After all, when we do not know what is to be believed, laughter is the most appropriate reaction. Laughter of helplessness in being human… a pure laughter to spread joy and happiness… how beautiful!

Joker lived at the confluence of sense and non-sense. His laughter appreciated this paradox of living life in a society. What society could make sense of, he could not. What the society laughed at, he could not. Whatever else was normal, he was not. This is pure authenticity.

Needless to mention, Gandhi’s life was authentic too. It was authentic in how he made it public and offered himself as an open book. His life was his message, and he kept it public. Gandhi aspired to go beyond the system in terms of achieving truth and relentlessly experimented about it. After all, such pursuit of truth is the basis of civil disobedience – to uphold a higher law than what was in practice.

He even let the world know about his experiments to grow beyond sexual desires – details of which he shared too. How could someone pursue truth till the end of his life and still prescribe something for all of us to believe in? How could one keep experimenting all his life and still believe in several things as if he already knows the truth?

There lies the difference. While Joker saw beauty in the riots in Gotham city, Gandhi stopped the non-cooperation when riots started at Chauri Chaura. Joker saw the beauty in being liberated from the system, while Gandhi saw the violence in it. Gandhi was a political visionary who offered a vision to the people, while the Joker was an artist who grasped the loneliness in the city but could not articulate a political reaction.

With his political vision, Gandhi offered something to the people to believe in, which was more than liberation from power. Joker could offer only liberation. After all, Joker held no beliefs whatsoever even to judge himself.

Joker created chaos and anarchy, while Gandhi prescribed Swaraj – which I believe, was an enlightened state of anarchy. Gandhi made dialogue possible, while Joker just laughed and said, “you won’t get it.” As disturbing as Joker looks, to juxtapose Gandhi and Joker might appear to compare good and evil. But, it is more like juxtaposing an artist and a politician.

The politician in Gandhi makes a prescription of a particular form of belief to people possible, while the lack of it makes Joker disbelieve in almost anything and everything, including himself. The very intimacy that Gandhi realised between politics and truth is what in my opinion, makes him good, and the Joker – evil. To normalise Joker means to devalue politics.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight and you win.” Joker was concerned more about laughter, and I believe that’s why Gotham City needed a Gandhi!

Note: this article was first published here.

Similar Posts

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below