Sikh bodies Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) and female lawyer from the community, the original PIL petitioner on the issue, suffered a big setback when a new bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra made it categorical on Tuesday that the Supreme Court cannot pass any kind of guidelines banning or curbing jokes about the Sikh community
It is a big U-turn on the part of the apex court as an earlier bench headed by then Chief Justice T S Thakur had during almost a year long hearing shown keen interest in the matter and sought guidelines from the sikh bodies to be incorporated in final guidelines which he said the SC would formulate. All the parties had filed elaborate affidavits and guidelines
“Anyone can take recourse of section 67 A of IT act(Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) , 499 or 500 IPC (defamation) ..how can we under article 32 lay down guideline ? What kind of guideline we can issue pertaining to a particular community”, Justice Misra asked Harvinder Chowdhury, the PIL petitioner and senior advocate R S Suri who appeared for the sikh bodies. The court said it will pass final orders in the case on March 27th and said it will only explore if any measure can be taken to curb spread of online jokes on the lines of ban on online advertisement of sex determination kits and clinics ordered earlier
“If a singular grievance comes we can take it up..i don’t think the court shall go into it . These are things in the domain of the legislature..the state”, the bench said
On November 28 the SGPC filed before Supreme Court hearing a PIL for banning ‘sardar jokes’ has demanded that such jokes which actually amount to “racial slur” and “racial profiling” be included within the definition of ‘ragging’ in educational institutions.
The SGPC said such jokes are very rampantly used in schools, colleges and university campuses by students to taunt students belonging to the Sikhcommunity.
“The Ministry of Human Resource Development be directed to issue appropriate instructions in respect to schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions wherein in accordance with the Raghavan Committee report “ragging” has been banned by setting forth guidelines for the same, and in keeping with the fact that victimization of students in such institutions on the basis of race and community falling nothing short of ragging, the same must be brought under the banner of ragging and suitable amendments be made in the purview/definition of ragging so as to include such “racial slurs”, “racial profiling”, “objectification on the basis of belonging to a particular community”, said the suggestions filed by the SGPC on the directions of a bench headed by chief justice T S Thakur.
The PIL seeks a ban on sardar jokes-both print and online- which portray Sikhs as "persons of low intellect, stupid and foolish".
Holding that such a step will “bolster the pride and self-esteem of youngsters belonging to the Sardar community, and preserve the Sikh identity”, the body said “since curbing of such jokes and comments on the basis of physical appearance alone, would reduce the number of young Sikh boys who otherwise under peer pressure and to save themselves from such objectification choose the route of getting their hair cut, which ultimately results in loss of identity of the Sikh religion in the very country of its origin.”
The SGPC told the court: “The brunt of this situation is faced by young school and college going children, who are at an impressionable age. The same holds especially true for Sikh boys who adorn unshorn hair, and tie patkas(mini head scarf), or turbans(head gear), and just by virtue of adorning the symbols of their religion become the victims of mean jokes and insinuations which can emotionally scar them for life.
Increasing number of youngsters belonging to the community are now either cutting their hair or tonsuring in order to be accepted in their peer group or to escape from ridicule, said the SGPC. Pointing out that it did not want Sikhs to be ridiculed, SC had in March this year 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.
“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”, a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur had during a July hearing told lawyers who represented SGPC, Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) and main petitioner and advocate Harvinder Chowdhury asking them to come up with suggestions.
DSGMC’s lawyer R S Suri however 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.
This article has been made possible because of financial support from Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation.