It’s Time to Listen to Kunal Kamra and Learn to Take a Joke

Social Commentary

It’s Time to Listen to Kunal Kamra and Learn to Take a Joke

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Comedy is serious business in India. Now you don’t only need a sense of humour to become a comic, you also need a lot of courage.  Standing on stage and cracking jokes into a microphone needn’t be a daring job, but we live in a country which can’t take a joke – where comics are arrested for things they have not done and memes on Twitter invite contempt of court charges from the Supreme Court. We live in a country, where Kunal Kamra is not just a famous comedian, he is also a “regular offender”.

However, the brave among us resist, and that is precisely what Kunal Kamra has done. In a stinging reply to the Supreme Court’s contempt notice, the comedian has refused to apologise for his tweet. He mentions that it is an over-estimation of his abilities, that his tweets can “shake the foundation” of the court. “The public’s faith in the judiciary is founded on the institutions own actions, and not on any criticism or commentary about it,” he said in his affidavit. Kamra also pointed out that he doesn’t believe that judges would be unable to discharge their duties just because they were a subject of satire or comedy.

The comedian hit the nail on the head when he stated that there is a “growing culture of intolerance in the country, where taking offence is seen as a fundamental right which has been elevated to the status of a much loved national sport,”. Recent events do support his assertion, from the arrest of Munawar Faruqui over a joke he was “going to” crack, to cases against makers of Tandav for hurting religious sentiments. Being offended has truly turned into a sport, and everyone is winning gold.

“Most people do not react to jokes that don’t make them laugh; they ignore them like our political leaders ignore their critics.”

“I believe there need be no defence for jokes. Jokes are based on a comedian’s perception. These jokes are not reality, and they don’t claim to be. Most people do not react to jokes that don’t make them laugh; they ignore them like our political leaders ignore their critics. That is where the life of a joke must end. The truth about the attention economy is that the more attention one gives to criticism or ridicule, the more credible it appears to be,” he said in his response. That is as crisp, and straightforward a defence of humour that one can possibly make.

Kamra also provided a snarky suggestion for his punishment. “If this Court believes I have crossed a line and wants to shut down my internet indefinitely, then I too will write Happy Independence Day post cards every 15th August just like my Kashmiri friends,” he wrote in his response to the contempt notice. Kunal Kamra didn’t pull back any punches in his response and the ball is now with the Supreme Court.

The comedian has staunchly defended his right to free expression. It is now time for the Court to defend his civil liberties. The Court, through a mature judgement, can put a full stop to this offence-taking Olympics and set the record straight on where it stands on the issue. Maybe it can take a cue from Justice Chandrachud, who had once remarked, “Don’t like it? Don’t watch it.”

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