NOT FUNNY #AIB #ComedyNightsWithKapil

What we laugh at says a lot about us and off late I’ve begun to deeply question the collective conscience of the world’s largest democracy, and more so of the educated and empowered part of this population.  Let me look at comedy from a frame of objective criticism. Yes, everyone deserves to be criticised, just because its a ‘Roast/ Knock-out’ does not mean you can get away with saying or doing anything.

And yes, this is a queer person’s rant, but we don’t hear many queer voices in this part of the world, so don’t even dare to say ‘it’s your gay ego talking’

Is calling someone black funny?  ‘Oh you’re so black that your mother got you tested for Ebola!’ Really? The fact that countless people laughed at this joke bothers me. How can the colour of someone’s skin be funny? Similarly how is someone’s promiscuity funny? How is ‘she has been on top of all the stand up comedians funny? Calling someone a slut is funny? Sure, celebrate promiscuity but this really does cross a line. And if promiscuity is amusing, then what’s the fuss around Honey Singh’s songs? Just because the hindi translation of slut ( ‘randi’) sounds crass and is therefore intolerable? Do standards of humour and morals apply differently to classes?

Why would Ranveer kiss Karan Johar? First, where is the consent? As a queer person, let me put it out there-  we don’t go down on every penis that comes our way. I don’t need a heterosexual man to kiss me to validate my identity. Had Ranveer done it to a woman, how would we have reacted? Why don’t we treat our LGBT people with the same respect, care and sensitivity as we seek for women.

Further on, I would have been really happy if Karan Johar came out for real because that deserves to be celebrated in ways more ceremonial than a Knockout. An ace director, who has given legendary movies to Indian Cinema, must come out, if not for his sake, then for the sake of countless millions of people who look up to him. Since he really hasn’t I don’t quite understand what’s so ludicrous about his sexuality to be made fun of over and over again. We get it that he is a closeted homosexual man, but that’s nothing to laugh about. I am sorry, it really does undermine the struggles of an openly queer person in India. Would bedroom practices of a heterosexual man be funny?‘Oh he’s a sucker for bdsm – Now let’s say it over and over again and laugh about it. Not funny. It won’t make a good joke. But he likes it in the ass- So? He likes to fuck a vagina- Is this funny? No. Then how is ‘he likes it in the ass’ funny. I also find it deeply offensive when people ‘act gay’. I am sorry. You don’t have to ‘act black’ ‘act Chinese’ ‘act American’ or ‘act gay’ to show me sympathy or give me approval. I hate it when heterosexual men make homosexual gestures or act feminine. Please do not. It’s deeply offensive.

Look at Deepika our new feminist from the industry enjoy those oh so sexist and misogynist.  jokes, and where is the brigade of educated intellectuals now? Is the moral compass of our English Speaking population different from the fibre of the rest of the population? Is humor a privilege of a certain class?

And please for the love of humanity, don’t pull of such outrageous, tasteless and disgusting things in the name of charity. Oh wait, the money goes to a charity run by Tata, a corporate house which treats its tea plantation workers as slaves, and the other- Being Human- the prodigy of a man accused of murder. Hmmm… Charitable indeed.

We need to hold the same principles to sexual orientation and gender identity as we do to race, caste, religion and every other form of identity that wrongfully discriminates and till the time we are not able to look at gender and sexuality with the same kind of sensitivity we associate with religion and race we will not make progress. And at this moment, I’m really looking out for my feminist and equalist and liberal intellectual empowered friends to step forward and tell what’s funny in misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, sexism or racism. The fact that we do find it funny, really tells me that probably you don’t quite practice what you preach. If anything, it should make you angry, not tickle your funny bone.

In a famous weekly show ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’ half of their caste is men who dress as women for their characters in the show. The whole country loves it and the whole country treats transgender people worse than you’d treat a street dog, and we treat street dogs real bad in India.  There was quite some outrage when one of the characters in the show dressed up as the other race to imitate popular tennis player, Serena Williams. I guess the question we must ask ourselves here is that if dressing as the other race for comic humour is not acceptable how is dressing as the other gender for comic humour acceptable?  The same show has also often mocked other ethnicities for their ‘small eyes.’ Similarly the show mocks the men who dress up as women to portray their character. I am okay with the crossdressing bit but I guess we cross a line if we don’t treat men dressing up as women to play a female character as female and constant reminders of their ugly masculinity underneath their female attire is something that deeply bothers me in the same way as similar messaging about innate attributes of other ethnicities bothers me. If it’s unacceptable to mock people for their small eyes, skin colour it should not be acceptable to mock someone for their gender identity. In one episode,  Sunil Grover, who for that part of the episode was portraying a male character taunts another character(male dressed as female) by saying ‘mard agaur aurat ke kapde pahnta hai toh achcha thodi lagta hai’ – ‘does it look nice if a man wears a woman’s clothes’  I started questioning the show from that moment, and having watched  a lot of episodes of the show and even loving it for its humour I have also begun to deeply question all the times when they cross a line and no one notices it. In ancient times, men used to play female roles in plays and they did justice to those roles, by portraying them with grace and honesty. They were female for their characters and would be treated so. What Comedy Nights does is make jokers out of men who dress up as women. The fact that men wearing women’s clothes is funny, bothers me. It may not be the intent of the show, but they sure must think about the repercussions of standing on the slippery slope they always find themselves on the edge of.

If you find it funny that a man dresses up as a woman, then there is something extremely disturbing about our conscience, because its greatly disrespectful towards the struggles of everyone who does not conform to the gender binary, and that we find bending the gender binary funny raises a really big question on our tolerance and acceptance of our genderqueer population. A crossdresser ain’t a clown, nor is any genderqueer person. If I walk down the streets wearing clothes of the opposite sex I don’t do it to be your clown and I don’t expect people to look at me and laugh. Don’t make me your clown, please.

Contrast this to a show Orange is the New Black which made Laverne Cox famous. In one of her speeches she said how her character of a transsexual person in the show really made people aware of the struggles of transgender people and it made people more sensitive. That’s the power of media and till the time we don’t hold our cinema and media as accountable we’re not heading anywhere. I understand cultural shifts take time, but its also time to start asking the right questions. We may despise nepotism in politics, but nepotism runs deeply in Bollywood too and I wonder why we never question that. Our cinema is a reflection of our society, and it’s time we really start deeply thinking of the content of our collective conscience.


A Nation Of Ironies : One Year Anniversary of Re-criminalization of Homosexuality in India

It’s been one year since the Supreme Court of India reinstated an archaic law- Section 377 that criminalizes homosexuality by up to ten years and a lot has happened in this time.

Just last week the story of a girl raped by an Uber cab driver hit the limelight. Shortly an open letter to the influential men of the country was doing rounds, asking our prime minister and others to call for death penalty for rapists. They also banned Uber amidst this fiasco. Besides everything that is fundamentally flawed with the death penalty, even if you were to have the death penalty or public castration for these rapists, then a lot of our brothers, fathers and friends would either be dead or impotent so far. Because statistically half our children have been sexually abused, and one third of our women faced abuse in some form. The perpetrators live among us, they’re not aliens.

Also, in this one year the world’s largest democracy elected to power a man accused of direct and indirect involvement in the brutal murder and displacement of thousands of muslims in our country’s worst ever communal riots and we trusted that this man would rid us of our greatest evils. A man under whose reign in Gujarat numerous women were raped, killed, burnt alive. Pregnant Muslim women were flocked naked, beaten, bellies cut open stabbed and stomped over. We trusted that this man will alleviate India’s marginalized and India’s women; a man accused of using state intelligence agencies to stalk a women.

Essentially women of this country are asking such a man, whose conscience did not move when all of this happened right under his nose, to save them! You trust a murderer to save you from being raped. Oh the irony!

The same people would defend Mr. Modi, our Prime Minister by saying that the communal riots happened long back, the judiciary gave him the clean chit. The same people are frustrated because rapists get clean chits all the time, the cases are dragged for decades in one court after the other till they’re forgotten. The same people criticize the courts inefficacy when it comes to delivering speedy and fair decisions because oh well it is but fucked up and the same people hold the judiciary sacrosanct because well it gave Mr. Modi a clean chit.

Uber appointed this man as driver despite his tainted track record and we as a nation elected Mr. Modi despite a tainted track record. We shouldn’t ban Uber, we should ban ourselves, our government, our entire system and our conscience.

The judiciary is not sacrosanct and nor is our Prime Minister whose increasing popularity on media channels bought by India’s richest man, shows the limitless and scary possibilities of unfettered capitalism to shape not only mass opinion but also to make it the only opinion. Why have we stopped criticising our Prime Minister? Why is criticism of Mr. Modi synonymous to being anti-national or secessionist? That’s what happens when the highest office of the land joins hands with the richest men of the land. And for me, I’m already a criminal in this country, call me anti-national for my criminal arse won’t budge.

The judiciary wronged us last year, in what was indeed a shameful decision. It was unfathomable that the Supreme Court would call the citizens of its own country criminals. But oh well, why must I complain. We’re a country that uses it’s army against its own people- Armed Forces Special Powers Act- the number of times Army men have misused their powers has pushed populations to feel alienated and forgotten. 84 million adivasis caught in the fight between Naxals and the government, if they support the government, Naxals kill them, and well the government in any case kills them. We’re a country that has ignored its own civil war for more than four decades! These constants have remained with us even in this on year.

Satta mai baithe hue logon, jara hosh mai aao ( Those in the seat of power, wake up!)

In a population of 1.2 billion it is safe to estimate that the number of non-heterosexual people would be about 50 to 100 million.  That’s the population of a few countries put together. We criminalized all of them for obnoxious reasons. The reasons were – ‘we’re a miniscule population’ “so called LGBT rights’ “377 hasn’t been used ever” blah blah blah. The words in the decision did not do justice to the stature of court. And the law says one cannot disrespect the court. These words reek of bigotry, homophobia and transphobia- Here I dare to disrespect the institution that discarded me as garbage.

Dear Supreme Court of India- You fucked us up last year! You were wrong. Your judges did not demonstrate empathy nor did they uphold the basic fundamental rights of a marginalized and vulnerable section of society. Yes, you fucked up. It’s time you self- correct. For shame, Supreme Court for shame.

How does criminalization matter when we’re already out and proud? Because my parents haven’t let me out of the house by my own will in the last two months ever since I told them I’m genderqueer. It matters because while 800 cases of violence against transpeople were reported many thousands of suicides, incidents of bullying in schools, domestic violence and rape were not reported. Because every day I hear a story that makes me sad. Because decriminalization is the first step towards equality. And because

And while you’re at it, shake up your conscience Supreme Court and the people of this country. If you truly want justice for your ‘daughters, mothers, sisters’ then you must know two things-

One, justice must be fair for everyone, even if that man is our prime minister, and two, you can’t ask for equality of women if you ignore several other marginalized sections because we won’t be equal till we treat one and another with equal respect, because if you discriminate others on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation(just the way you’re born a woman or a man, we’re born this way) and by discriminating against us you lose your right to ask for equality. Or well, you can again trust a murderer to save you from a rapist.

A Hijra in the family : Coming out as genderqueer to parents.

I was just another boy wanting to be a girl. Now, I’ll be just another boy. I have not complained, nor do I complain now. I only tell a tale, for that’s all I’ve got. A tale, some could relate to.

This is for everyone who sees the queer movement as a superficial rich kid’s tantrum. I hail from a deeply religious middle class family with strong roots in a place known for its gender based crimes.

One of these days if I stopped existing the world wouldn’t know but I don’t want to be just another lgbt person. I don’t want to be just another statistic, just another note. I want to see the light, I want to be able to  hope but I don’t know where to look for hope, where to find it.

There was someone who told me, that maybe I should get my career sorted and become financially stable and then my parents would agree to let me transition. But I already know the answer to what will happen if I’d propose transitioning then – the same thing that has already happened, day after day, over and over again.  I will be told to pick between family’s honor and my freedom.

If anyone tells me that it’s a fair price or that transitioning is not as important I just have one thing to say – Fuck you! You can’t decide what’s important or not for me. I ain’t a fool for putting everything I have on the line, just to transition, if it weren’t that important. For those of you who tell me that I must do what I gotta do, ask yourselves if you’d do what you must do, so easily and readily if you knew the price for it was being without a family.

Ever since I started to dream and imagine, I wanted to be a girl and now that my worst fears have come true, one by one: I failed to pay the unbearable price for transitioning. Finally, when it began to sink in what this really means- I stopped living. I was alive because the girl inside me was alive, I was fun, frolic, confident and everything that anyone knew me for, because inside me, she lived, and the day I was asked to kill her, I died.

For those of you, who would argue, that this is just another obstacle in the road to being a girl, I can only tell you that I am too tired to fight.

I wish I could explain to you what it means to blindly trust your parents, only to realize that the injection you had been administered as part of a general checkup was testosterone. I wish I could relate to you how it felt, watching rapid changes take place on the battlefield my body had become, only to feel sudden understanding whip at me. I wish I could explain why complaining was not only futile, but something I couldn’t do, because I knew my parents were just doing what they considered ‘right’.

I wish I could explain the pain of seeing your parents cry. I wish I could explain to you the fear of being the reason for your father’s heart attack.  I wish I could explain how it feels, when your family takes you to a sexologist, albeit with absolutely honest and concerned intentions because you failed to explain to them you’re not a disease. I wish I could explain to you what it feels to be the reason for the countless hours and tireless efforts your ageing parents put into prayers just so that you can be ‘okay’ and they continue to pray multiple times a day that this phase ends soon. I wish you knew what it feels like being such a disease, such a phase of misfortune. I wish I could explain what it means to have stomped over the desires of a father to see his son, man up, because no matter how hard you try you cannot man up. I wish I could explain what it feels to be the reason for your family’s despair. I wish I could explain what it feels like being a shame to everyone around you, being the reason for frantic calls, being the reason for concern. I wish I could explain what it means to be told, that if I do what I must, then I’d walk to my freedom by stepping over the graves of a broken family.

I wish I could explain to you how hard it is to smile and say I’m fine, when your concerned mother asks you if anything is wrong, because your face clearly shows everything is not fine and while you say you’re fine, all you want to do is howl and cry but you smile, and while you’re smiling all day long you’re holding back from breaking down, and while you smile again and say I’m fine- over and over again to everyone around you who wants to know what’s happening with your life, all you want to do is bang your head against the wall so hard, when you’re in the kitchen the knife looks tempting; when you want to hurt yourself, not because you want to kill yourself but because you want to prove a point, you want to prove a point to people you love, that you do care about them and then you realize that harming yourself won’t prove that point either and you stop.

Do you know that feeling when you want to stop existing, stop being, take a break, do nothing, I know it too, but I have neither the space nor the energy to do either.

How do I tell two truly concerned loving parents that their love is suffocating me. That I need space and time, the space to cry, cry myself to sleep, the space to cry loudly, shout, break a glass, howl. And finally when they gave me the space to be with myself, alone for some time in the day, I had nothing left of me. I had buried my failure, my incompetence, my loss, deep inside me. I had become a walking dead person, because my soul – the girl inside me stopped breathing.

The realization of being transgender happens over time. In India transgender implies you’re a hijra. Hijra’s are feared by society for they’re believed to have mystical powers and at the same time being hijra is the worst abuse you can give to a man. And if you don’t conform to either male or female you’re a hijra and of course no family would have their son make that decision which will give him a life of hell – a life of a hijra. In this part of the world, you call a spade a spade, ergo you call a man wanting to become a woman a hijra. ‘Sadak par ladkiyon ke kapde pahen kar ghoomne wale ladkon ko humare samaj mai kya kahtein hai tumhe maloom hoga’ (‘You know what we call a man wearing a woman’s clothes here’)

For me the realization of being transgender happened when I fell madly in love with a heterosexual boy and I realized that it was exceptionally difficult to move on because it was the girl inside me that had fallen in love and in the attempt to move on, I did some stupid things and yes I regret now. I acted in a matter that was selfish and would have hurt him. It’s been a year and it still weighs me down every day.

If there is anything I have learned from that mistake, it is that I would not want to turn into a girl with a heavy bag of guilt, that I don’t want to lose more people in this journey toward being a girl,  that I don’t have it in me what it takes to live with the guilt of running away from family and the responsibilities one has toward it and neither do I have in me the courage to be disowned by my family. Some families don’t move, some take time, for mine- I know them best. I’ve bid farewell to my dream of being a girl. The short stunt was a beautiful one. But with this, I’ve bid adieu to a big part of me.

I can’t be a hypocrite who fights the world for equality while I have lost that battle in my own life. If this boat sails in the opposite direction you’ll know; for now you know this titanic has hit it’s iceberg.