Turns out, India, or at least Indian Twitter, really cares about child rights. Worthies on the microblogging site have been atremble with rage because actor Swara Bhasker, on a chat show, used a cuss word for a child.
Not to a child, mind you. About a child, as a joke.
The show, Son of Abish, was released online on November 2. By November 6, the troll army had made #SwaraAunty among the top trends on Twitter, an NGO had filed a complaint with National Commission for Protection of Child Rights against the actor for her “racist” comment (the child was apparently from South India), and a BJP leader had approached the NCPCR for her “physical and mental exploitation” of the child.
The outrage is juvenile, and hypocritical.
Granted, language means different things to different people. Words that are perfectly acceptable for some can seem outrageous to others. But there are two things to be pointed out in Swara Bhasker’s defence — the nature of the show, and the nature of the joke.
And much to be read in the nature of the vitriol being directed at her.
The actor, along with stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, had come to the web talk show hosted by Abish Mathew. The web-entertainment space in India, as in the rest of the world, has been at pains to free itself of the burden of niceties that ‘family TV’ comes with. Web comedians are out to ‘adultise’ entertainment, and part of it is using the language people use in their daily lives, but which censor boards wouldn’t pass. The initial shock value, and then the grinning acceptance, of cuss words on screen is part of the appeal of web comedy shows — although admittedly, such shows often try to make up in swear words what they lack in punch.
Swara Bhasker’s statements were simply in keeping with the format of the show. In the story she describes, she is actually the one looking out for the child’s welfare — trying to make sure he gets a bathroom break, which other people on the set seemingly didn’t care about.
Even the most doting parents will admit children are often a handful. The sweetest of people have been driven to uncharitable thoughts by bawling children in airplanes and cinema halls. If Bhasker jokes about children being “pure evil” and, again as a joke, uses a cuss word for a child, it really doesn’t put her on the same plain as King Herod.
But but but. Isn’t Swara Bhasker a vocal part of the group on social media always advocating political correctness? The killjoys who won’t let people enjoy a sexist/homophobic/casteist/minority-phobic joke in peace?
A joke becomes problematic when made at the expense of a community anyway oppressed, or when it furthers a dangerous narrative prevalent in society.
A rape joke is wrong because it trivialises a crime Indian society is yet to accept the gravity of. Casteist jokes are a strict no-no because what is up for laughs is someone’s lived trauma. Bhasker’s joke is harmless — it does not further any damaging narrative, nor target an oppressed community.
A lot of the abuse she is getting, however, is not quite as harmless. Many people criticising her seem irked not at what she said, but at who she is.
We are a nation not exactly shy of cuss words, as the most cursory look at Swara Bhasker’s own Twitter timeline can prove. We happily consume the very problematic content dished out by Hindi comedy shows on primetime TV. The venom against Bhasker, then, is because she is Swara Bhasker, vocal opponent of our political climate today, an advocate of gender and minority rights, and, of course, a woman. The “gotcha” glee in many of the tweets against her is evident — “You woker-than-thou person have erred, and we shall now castigate you with far filthier words than the one you uttered.”
If you are willing to use a kid to score digital victories over a woman you hate, you are no champion of child rights. Ask yourself, would you have been as outraged if Kapil Sharma or Akshay Kumar had said the same thing?
And if you don’t like cuss words, just swear off web comedies.