Racial slurs against and profiling of any community are unacceptable and the (SGPC) Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee’s plea to the Supreme Court to include this in the definition of ragging merits consideration. But to ask the court to stop the circulation of Sardar jokes and also asking the ministry of information and broadcasting to lay down guidelines for the media, film and television industry to refrain from projecting Sikhs as comic relief or typecasting them to “project them as fools and imbeciles, lacking wit and intelligence” is perhaps being needlessly sensitive. The circulation of jokes on the social media should be subjected to scrutiny, it said.
Earlier the apex court itself had said that there were Sikhs who took such jokes sportingly and not all ribbing was taken as an insult. It is not only Sikhs who are made fun of, most communities ranging from Malayalis to Parsis to Gujaratis are stereotyped and jokes made about them on several public platforms including films. Humour, parody and satire are part of freedom of speech under Article 19 of the Constitution. There are, of course, grounds on which that freedom can be restricted but these pertain to relations with other countries, the sovereignty and integrity of the country and public order and decency. Even the punishment for acts intended to outrage religious feelings can be enforced only if they are found to be deliberate and malicious. Unless humour degenerates into hate speech, there does not seem to be any grounds for proscribing it. The SGPC should not read too much into a joke or two. The late Khushwant Singh, arguably one of India’s best-known Sikhs, not only put together a book of Sardar jokes but was fond of rounding off his famous column with such witticisms on the occasion.
If all communities were to be so sensitive, then humour and satire as a genre would be under threat. There are many issues which affect the youth in Punjab today, among them the threat from drug abuse. The SGPC should take the lead in tackling these social issues. It is right to be concerned about ragging but often this ugly practice has less to do with targeting communities than with senior bullies attacking vulnerable young students. A joke is not an attack on the dignity of any community and the SGPC should not be so thin-skinned.