Will the hugely popular Santa-Banta jokes on the Internet and social media become history? Could such banter on the community in social gatherings be taken as an offence?
Pointing out that it did not want Sikhs to be ridiculed, the Supreme Court on Tuesday for the first time asked the community to come out with suggestions as to what could be done within the permitted jurisdiction of the judiciary to impose limited ban on 'sardar' jokes.
Enforcing the order
"We may say do not crack such jokes. But then how do we enforce the order? Of course we do not want you to be ridiculed, but please tell us in what way we can do something. You come out with suggestions within six weeks," a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur told senior lawyer RS Suri, who represented the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee and main petitioner and advocate Harvinder Chowdhury. Suri said he was not for any penal provision, but primarily wanted sensitisation of the public, especially the school students on the issue.
While Chowdhury demanded a ban on websites spreading jokes portraying the 'sardar' community as "persons of low intellect, stupid and foolish" and equated them to "racial abuse", the DSGMC sought "framing the guidelines to curb the menace of the social, racial, religious, ethnic remarks abuses or jokes and direction to the state to implement some guidelines through their law-enforcing agencies at all the public places".
"Certain type of jokes becoming viral after the advent of the social media, WhatsApp, some of which are in very bad taste are hurting us. It is not only against the Sikhs. There is a wider canvas like Biharis, people from the North-east also are the butt of many jokes. We may be enjoying jokes and also cracking jokes ourselves. But we do not want to become jokes ourselves," Suri argued.
Narrating her personal embarrassment on account of such jokes, Chowdhury had said during the last hearing: "I know the petition is strange. But I am on something else... the kids in the community are thoroughly demoralised. I am married to a Hindu family. My daughter and son do not want the 'Kaur' and 'Singh' tag with their names.
Their friends make fun of them." She said she found it strange that when certain communities and castes are targeted, there's always much 'hue and cry', but when sardars are made the butt of jokes, there is not a single word of protest.
On the first day of hearing on October 31 last year, initially the court was in a mood to dismiss the petition till Chowdhury prima-facie convinced the court that it was a matter worth serious hearing and the issue was related to the prestige of the community.
She argued that such jokes amounted to humiliating and insulting the Sikh community.
"Why should we ban such a thing? The community is known for its great sense of humour… they enjoy the jokes … Did author Khushwant Singh not write jokes on Sikhs? And, he was a sardar. Perhaps the Sikh community will object to the banning of these jokes on the Internet," Justice Thakur told Chowdhury.
Justice Thakur had then even consulted senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was present in the courtroom in connection with another case, if he felt the court should at all proceed with the PIL.
Singhvi replied: "In my opinion, the community takes such jokes very sportingly." The court agreed to hear the petition after Chowdhury vehemently pleaded for a hearing.