The Supreme Court has heard many petitions in the past to ban jokes on the Sikh community. On March 17, it agreed to hear a plea by Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), along with other petitioners seeking a ban on the circulation of such jokes. The petition will be heard on April 5.
The petitioners believe that a stereotype has been forged against the Sikhs and the Sardars due to which they face discrimination. Even the PILs filed earlier, for example, by the lawyer Harvinder Chowdhury, supported by the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Managing Committee (DSGC), talked about how these jokes are a violation of the right to equality and how there are various websites which showcase these insensitive jokes, which tend to portray the Sardar community as people of low intellect. The petitioners want the Ministries of Telecom and Information and Broadcasting to either ban the said websites or formulate guidelines for the content on them.
The question that arises is, is it right for the court to ban these jokes or filter the websites for content? Is it not infringing upon the right to freedom of expression of people?
In hearings for the earlier petitions, a bench led by Chief Justice T S Thakur praised the Sikh community for their contribution in the development of our country but said that the court’s orders have to rational and within the judicial dimension for them to be implemented. They also pointed out that not all people of the community get offended by such jokes. Rather, people like Khushwant Singh have written books on such jokes which have been enjoyed by everyone. Yet, the PILs state that the community is hurt and offended, and can’t stand the lampooning anymore.
It makes one think- where does one draw a line? When does a joke start bordering on a regressive stereotype used to subjugate people of one community? Are the jokes on people of specific communities, like the Sardars, people from the North-East India, or Bihar only harmless or are they an indication of a very problematic mind-set? Is cracking a joke on another community intolerant or taking offence to it is? The issue is complex and can certainly be helped along in its disentanglement by the discussions and the verdict of the court, so that the blurred lines between harmless jokes and vicious prejudices become clearer.
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