We’re a Nation Hell-Bent on Taking Offence: Vicious Trolls Target Comedians Rohan Joshi & Sahil Shah

Social Commentary

We’re a Nation Hell-Bent on Taking Offence: Vicious Trolls Target Comedians Rohan Joshi & Sahil Shah

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Cracking jokes has become a risky business. One would think that the consequences for narrating jokes into a microphone might be a few laughs. But rape threats, physical intimidation and online bullying have become the new norm. It started with Agrima Joshua, who was hounded for “offending sentiments”, for an act that was more than a year old.

Since then, online trolls have gone into overdrive, scanning old clips from all comics and launching targeted online attacks on them. Any stand-up bits, with references to historical figures or religion are being dug out and widely shared to point out how these comics are “anti Hindu”. Videos have been made to abuse them, and in the case of Rohan Joshi, his phone number and address were leaked, because of which he had to deactivate his social media accounts.

 

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“Going offline for a few days. Number and address have been leaked, so the last few days have been a circus of abuse, threat, 2 am phone calls and anxious spirals. I’m sorry if I offended anyone’s sentiments with my words and I apologise without any qualifications and reservations for any words I have spoken that have hurt someone’s religious sentiments. Please leave my family alone,” Rohan Joshi wrote in his Instagram post.

A few days back, YouTuber Shubham Mishra had put out a video threatening to rape Agrima Joshua because of a joke that had offended him. He was later arrested by the crime branch of the Vadodara police.

Similar was the fate of Imtiyaz Shaikh, who has a YouTube page called “Umesh Dada”. He had also uploaded a similar video threatening the stand-up comic and was arrested by the Mumbai Police, charged under relevant sections of the IT Act and IPC.

While few of these cases attracted attention from the police because of social media outrage, there are countless trolls out there, with anonymous handles, threatening comics and making details of their private life public. This has led to many comics either deactivating their accounts, making them private or issuing apology videos.

“Every single family member has been abused,” said comedian Sahil Shah.

After an avalanche of hate and trolling, Sahil eventually put out a video message stating “If I’ve offended anyone’s sentiments please accept my humble apology.”

Comedian Aadar Malik too issued a similar apology. Both comedians tagged Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Home Minister Anil Deshmukh in their tweets.

Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said action has been taken against those abusing women. “We will also take further action against Ms. Joshua, who made offensive comments on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, after proper legal consultation,” he tweeted.

While those who disagree with a comic bit can pursue legal means to express their discontent, abusive language, personal trolling and physical violence must invite the strictest possible action from the police. Comedians and their families should not be living in fear for the job of cracking jokes, and the government must ensure they have that liberty.

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