Home » Life & Society » Kejriwal wants to ban Santa-Banta jokes. Forget us, science says it's a lousy idea

Kejriwal wants to ban Santa-Banta jokes. Forget us, science says it's a lousy idea

Sneha Vakharia | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 11:42 IST

There's a petition doing the rounds that seeks to ban jokes about Sikhs. Most specifically, Santa-Banta jokes.

You could pass this off as just another rant among the hordes of worthless petitions now on Change.org (A website that most famously sent out emails asking recipients to petition both for and against consumption of beef last month. One that also features a petition demanding that Maya Digital Studio release ' Captain Vyom' on DVD).

Read- A petition to ban beef and one to allow it: the curious contradiction of Change.org

But this particular petition against Sikh jokes has been garnering serious support. It has close to 25,000 supporters. Even the Supreme Court is willing to examine the PIL seeking a ban on Sikh jokes.

And Arvind Kejriwal has now signed the petition.

That too, a hard copy version. To lend it more gravitas. You know, just in case. (There's also the fact of an election in Punjab he may contest).

santa banta embed kejriwal

The main proponent of this petition is a certain RPS Kohli. In his own words,

"While we are a fun-loving community, and love our culture, the Bhangra, the language, we DO NOT like when "12 Baje Jokes" or "Santa Banta Jokes" are cracked at our expense. It is not about Sikhs not being able to take a joke, it's about hurting our religious sentiments.

Bullying is not funny. Nor is making fun of my religion."

He makes an earnest argument, if not a fair one. But we'll get to that in a moment.

His petition appears to come from a very personal place. He cites, as reason for his petition, the fact that he was bullied in school for his turban. He was the only Sikh boy in an Oriya school.

He writes, with the greatest sincerity, "I was the topper in the class and most proactive idea-churner for initiating social projects. The first school magazine editor, interact club and literacy program for the nearby village were my contributions. Yet, I was an object of ridicule, chuckles and taunts."

At this point we'd like to point something that should be all too self-evident.

Mr Kohli, you were bullied in school not because you were Sikh. You were bullied because you were different. It has happened to the best of us - we were bullied for having voices that hadn't broken, breasts too big, for being too dark, too tall, too thin, too fat, for carrying the wrong brand of bag or having a period stain on a skirt.

We were bullied if we didn't fall strictly and convincingly into the median. An Oriya boy in a Sikh school would have suffered the same indignity that you did. You are allowing childhood trauma, however horrific, to colour your perception of adult realities. Having said that, let's now examine Kohli's petition on its own merit. By first distancing his personal experiences from the colourful Indian traditional of Sardar jokes.

Big Holes and White Ambassadors

It isn't just the Sikhs in India who've been subject to a rich history of comedy. There's also Rustom Parsiji in a white ambassador and his buxom wife with short hair. The Tamil engineering research assistant with oiled hair. The Bangalorean IT guy who listens only to Pink Floyd and remains a virgin.

The lazy Bengali communist whose home smells of fish. The Gujarati couple with a very large hole. The Catholic from Goa who wears suspenders, is an alcoholic and plays Oh Carol on his guitar. The Gelf mallu. The stingy Marwari. The drunk Punjabi. The Oriya who sold his kidney to receive an education.

If there's a stone to be thrown, odds are it will land on some fiendish stereotype. And a culture of jokes around it.

Which is great. Because to laugh at a stereotype is to strip it of all hostility. It is to slap your comrade on her back and invite a quid pro quo of more stereotype-based humour. It's easy, recognisable, and functions as a tangible and useful social glue.

Also: Read the best of Khushwant Singh's Santa-Banta jokes, before they get banned

All the best stand-up comedians use it. Ever been to a show where the comedian will begin by asking "Any Bengalis in the house tonight?" Followed by a question about Delhiites. And Bombayites. And married people. And single people.

Of course you have. And that's not by some largesse of coincidence. It's by far the most effective way to get an audience to warm to one another. What the comedian is enforcing on his audience is this: We've been exposed, but then, so have you. Now you're all friends in it together.

Evolutionary psychologists have always known laughter to be a message-sending device. Because when you laugh, you let someone else know that something is not dangerous. Christ Wesbury, a psychologist who is working on quantifying humour, explains using the example of a person who believes she has heard an intruder in the backyard. The moment the person laughs, she unconsciously informs others in her vicinity that the intruder is, in fact, a cat.

"If you laugh, you're sending a message to whomever's around that you thought you saw something dangerous, but it turns out it wasn't dangerous after all. It's adaptive."

Which would then mean, evolutionarily speaking, that jokes along the lines of communal stereotypes are essentially the threads holding any diverse and scattered social fabric together.

But what is a joke, and what isn't?

Here enters the great comedic tool of exaggeration. When something is in no way possible, it can no longer be hostile. For example, it is rather impolite to call somebody's mother fat. But to say Yo Mama's so fat she has her own pincode, is no longer hostile. Because it is entirely implausible. It's why Alia Bhatt can laugh at an Alia Bhatt's So Dumb joke. It's also why Alok Nath can laugh at himself.

Read more- 'No cows were harmed in this defeat': social media trolls BJP

So if a stereotype is stretched by implausible exaggerations, it becomes a joke. And if it elicits a laugh, it eliminates hostilities.

Which brings us back to the contentious Santa Banta jokes that have so irked Kejriwal and Kohli. They're implausible. They've never been any form of serious indictment on the Sikh community. They elicit laughs. And after decades of practice, we've gotten rather good at them. They deserve to exist.

The petition is funny because it's implausible

There is, of course, no tangible way in which either the Supreme Court or Arvind Kejriwal will be able to enforce a ban on Santa and Banta jokes. Which is precisely why it's funny to anyone who understands the internet.

santa banta embed sneha

Though the argument can be made that it's time we let the jokes rest. Not because of some self-indulgent petition.

But because all Santa Banta jokes that could have been written may already have been.

And perhaps it's time we broaden the playing the field a bit. Embrace the Equal Offence dictum, make fun of more communities, build more bridges, laugh some more.

Also because if they're going after our favourite Santa and Banta, then it's only a matter of time that our Brahmin (and strictly non-Sikh) Supandi is next.

And that would be a travesty indeed.

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First published: 4 December 2015, 9:28 IST
Sneha Vakharia @sneha_vakharia

A Beyonce-loving feminist who writes about literature and lifestyle at Catch, Sneha is a fan of limericks, sonnets, pantoums and anything that rhymes. She loves economics and music, and has found a happy profession in neither. When not being consumed by the great novels of drama and tragedy, she pays the world back with poems of nostalgia, journals of heartbreak and critiques of the comfortable.