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Read an offended law teacher’s PIL and what she (and apparently Christians and others) found offensive in the AIB roast; But, are the jokes illegal?

Are health warnings sufficient to guard against offence?
Are health warnings sufficient to guard against offence?
Disclaimer: If you are religious and / or easily offended, please DO NOT continue reading. We have re-published content below that is allegedly offensive, in order to allow reasoned and detached study and evaluation by legal professionals and academics of the current laws and restrictions on freedom of expression. No offence or insult is intended.

Dr Sharmila Ghuge, who teaches at Jitendra Chauhan College of Law in Mumbai, has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court, alleging that the comedy roast hosted on 20 December 2014 by comedy-collective AIB and later uploaded to YouTube was so offensive she was unable to watch the whole thing.

The 42-year-old sought for the state government and police to begin criminal action against the organisers and participants of the show and for a policy to be formulated by the state for regulating such shows. [see full draft petition below]

Her petition was scheduled for hearing yesterday before a division bench of Justice VM Kanade and Justice Revati Mohite-Dere but the judges were unavailable and the hearing has been postponed to today (Tuesday, 10 February).

Ghuge claimed in her petition that after she came to know about the show on television on 1 February:

... the petitioner being a law faculty discussed this issue in the classroom while discussing the Constitutional Protection for Women on 2nd February 2015. For the surprise of the petitioner almost all the students pursuing their three year LL.B. course had seen the video and gave their opinions about the same.

The petitioner after listening to the students, out of anxiety and social concern personally saw the video, however could not completely see till the end due to the licentious and offensive language used in each statement of the performers of the show.

It is most respectfully submitted that the language used in the show is unbearable for any cultured and reputed person of civilised background.

What is a roast?

A comedy roast, such as the AIB Knockout, is a form of insult comedy popular in the West, which usually features creative and often vulgar insults of guests and other comedians who volunteer for a so-called roasting and who are expected to take the insults in good nature, and sometimes return the insults later in the roast.

“A good roast joke is undeniable; it’s comedy at its most immediate and visceral. Cruel, harsh, and tasteless, sure, but also very, very funny,” writes entertainment website Vulture about the form.

The AIB roast video, started with a “Warning: Adults Content, 18+” disclaimer, and “the following video is filthy, rude and offensive… You know like… A roast.”

Petitioner Ghuge pointed out that the show not only affected her but also outraged modesty of women in the country:

It is pertinent to mention that, each sentence used throughout the show by the Bollywood stars, Mr. Karan Johar, Mr. Ranveer Singh, Mr. Arjun Kapoor and the others is extremely offensive not only to the dignity of women but also to the basic values cherished in our country.

All kinds of vulgar jokes including vile words, digs at Karan Johar’s homosexual orientation, Ranveer’s promiscuity and Arjun’s professional failings were traded on the show.

The audience has enjoyed the show with ostentatious laughter without realizing the future effect of such shows on the youth and the nation.

The said content repeated several times in the show violates the provisions of Section 292 [Sale, etc., of obscene book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure or any other object] and 294  [obscene acts in public] of the Indian Penal Code as well as various other provisions of law.

Moreover, the adverse comments past on various communities, such Christian religion and Sindhi community categorically not only violates Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code but also deeply hurts the sentiments of Public at large.

Similarly, the use of smutty and vulgar gestures during the show and indecorous and undignified remarks on women with reference to rape violates Section 23 [sic] of the Indecent Representation of Women’s Act.

Ghuge cited several excerpts from the show to prove her point. She also pointed out that digs were taken at several political figures:

It is worthwhile to bring it to the kind notice of the Honourable Court that the show did not even spare the respected Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi from the dirty jokes. Several stalwart politicians including the former Prime Minister of India, Mr Manmohan Singh, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, Ms. Smriti Irani, etc., have been insulted by the various comments passed by the performers of the AIB show.

This act showing disrespect to the Prime Minister of the nation under the banner of comedy should not be tolerated and accepted as humour. Each individual who is looked upon as a role model must set forth benchmarks before the young generation and not such disgraceful statements made for worthy personalities of national stature.

Modi was referenced in a joke about host of the roast Karan Johar, saying that if his films pandered to NRIs any more, he would be Narendra Modi.

Disclaimer: If you are easily offended, please DO NOT continue reading. We have re-published content below that is allegedly offensive, in order to allow reasoned and detached study and evaluation by legal professionals and academics of the current laws and restrictions on freedom of expression. No offence or insult is intended.

Furthermore, in her petition, Ghuge stated: 

It is most respectfully submitted that the whole conversation for a period of almost three hours shall be bad taste to be reproduced before the Honorable court for the very reason that the petitioner may fail to put forth such dirty words which are beyond articulation and expression by any decent person. However, following are some of the statements made in show:

"I am not saying that Ranveer Singh does Sh** films but truly, the last good thing he was in, was Deepika Padukone."

"Ranveer spent 4 years in the industry. One of acting and three yrs of getting over Anushka Sharma."

"Arjun has lost the kilos faster than Deepika lost her dating standards."

"In 2 States, Arjun plays a Punjabi guy who falls for a hot Sounth Indian. So basically he played Boney Kapoor. "

"Parineeti Chopra is not here tonight as we told her she will get f***ed by 10 dudes in front of 4000 thousand people. Karan Johar is here for the same reason."

"Deepika and Ranveer, what an awesome couple. Deepika is a state level Badminton player. Ranveer is a national level sex offender. "

"Kuch Kuch Hota Hain is Ranveer's favorite. Even today he will reach out to a box of tissues. Because he is the only guy who will j**k out to Farida Jalal."

"Arjun and Ranveer send out the message that if you work hard, then one day, you too can S**k Adi Chopra's C*ck."

"No matter how remote, dangerous or smelly, if there is a hole, Ranveer Singh will enter it. "

"We wanted Ranbir, but we only managed Ranveer..which is what Deepika did, so it should be okay" 

“F***ing, Abuses by Mother name, Bhosdi Ke, Ch**t (Hindi Word for vagina), L**d (Hindi Word for penis), Male & Woman Genitals, were used very often.

Petitioner submits there much of obscenity and vulgar language and expressions were used in the said program that the petitioner is feeling ashamed of reproducing the same.

Offensive under s 295A?

The roast also attracted the ire of religious groups, with at least one Christian group having filed a police complaint against AIB that, as of two days ago, was being examined by the police’s legal department whether it fit within the definition of Section 295A of the IPC, which states:

Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage reli­gious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reli­gious beliefs. —

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of[citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.]

Yesterday AIB published on its Facebook page an “unconditional apology to the entire Christian community for any offense that may have been caused to its members as a result of the AIB Knockout”, after meeting with the Archdiocese of Bombay. “While performing our acts, no matter the subject, we never intend to hurt anyone, though we as an unfortunate consequence of the nature of our profession, we sometimes do. We are sorry,” they wrote.

Comedy, deconstructed

Warning: If you are religious and / or easily offended, please DO NOT continue reading. We have re-published content below that is allegedly offensive, in order to allow reasoned and detached study and evaluation by legal professionals and academics of the current laws and restrictions on freedom of expression. No offence or insult is intended.

The performance that was uploaded on YouTube contained at least three jokes with some references to Christianity, some of which were mainly directed at a male member of the comedy troupe, who was ostensibly a Christian:

“[X] is so unattractive that he was an altarboy for 10 years and even a priest wouldn't touch him”
Explanation: The trope of paedophilia within the church is very common in comedy and often used as a stock joke, though it is originally based on widespread child abuse scandals within the Catholic and Roman Catholic churches by priests, for which churches in many countries have issued apologies.

“X is such a virgin, that in five days he's going to give birth to Jesus. Unfortunately [he's] also so ugly, that Jesus doesn't love him but he just wants to be friends.”
Explanation: This was used as a put-down of one of the AIB comedian’s sexual prowess, referencing Christians' belief that in the Bible, Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, the son of God. The second part is referencing Christians’ common belief that Jesus loves everyone, couple with the insinuation that the target does not have a girlfriend.

“[X] is so catholic, once he's done masturbating, it takes three days for his [penis] to resurrect.”
Explanation: Referencing catholic guilt about masturbation, innuendo about a lack of sexual prowess, obliquely linked to a reference about the resurrection of Jesus.

The majority of the show was politically incorrect at best, and often prima facie racist or otherwise discriminatory, if it had not been delivered in the context of comedy.

One running joke throughout the show, were a series of supposed barbs thrown at one of the comedians about his darker complexion, usually beginning with x “is so black”, and ending in a politically incorrect punchline, such as “a white cop got away with killing him” (referencing the common shooting of African Americans by police officers in the US) or “he should be sitting in a Swiss bank account” (referencing scandals surrounding black money).

The joke here, presumably, is that some parts of India are discriminatory towards darker skinned people, with the comedians taking it to its absurd extreme by making it part of a series of discriminatory insults against a darker-skinned colleague.

There were several similar barbs, many based on stereotypes held by and of various parts of Indian society (such as a joke revolving around the stereotype of Sindhis being good at business: “you're so Sindhi, you insist your girlfriend brings back the receipts from the abortion clinic”, for tax purposes).

Several jokes were potentially insensitive of survivors of domestic violence or rape (“you are so abusive, we tried to high-five your wife, and she ducked” or “you're such a sleeze, you didn't get turned on until Deepika used the pepper spray on you”), with the intention of the joke in both cases being the man’s reputation as an unsavoury or lascivious character.

A number of other jokes were general putdowns about participants’ (or some celebrity audience members’) talent, appearance, weight or intelligence, with a number having been published by Rediff.

Some of the comedy was also visual, including simulating fellatio and masturbation with gestures in the air or on a microphone.

What do you think? Do any of the examples above constitute a crime under any Indian laws?

Would it be possible to argue that comedy should be immune from 295A, since its intention is not to outrage religious feelings of any class but it is to amuse or, in some cases, to satire?

What about prosecution under other sections?

Anti-AIB PIL.pdf

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