Trigger warnings for mentions of rape and sexual harassment threats.
Agrima Joshua is Indian, a woman, and a stand-up comedian. So of course, her material is open for policing, and her body is a means of control for the Indian patriarchy. Having expressed a slightly offensive joke against a famous Hindu King in one of her stand-ups, Joshua started receiving rape threats from offended Indian parties.
It all started with a different stand up comedian, but it came down to a common thread – religion. On June 30th, Kenny Sebastian, a successful Indian comic, responded to one of his trolls, who had repeatedly attacked him on religious grounds (Sebastian is a Christian). Agrima Joshua, responded in support of her friend and fellow comedian, but her tweet resulted in Joshua being targeted instead. A 16 month old comedy stand-up of hers was dug up, and she was claimed to be “deliberately offensive to” Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, a celebrated Marathi king from the 17th century.
In her video, Agrima jokes about a statue of the revered Indian hero being put up in Maharashtra. She mentions a Reddit thread where various followers of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj spoke about how the statue was the best thing for India. The statue, according to them, would have lasers and a GPS, which obviously was joke. She tried to relate India’s current scenario with the building of a statue, but no where did I find she was being offensive to the historical figure in general. Yes, the jokes might have been a little crass for my taste, but at the end, they were jokes. But her jokes ended up costing her so much because Indians hate opinionated women.
Comedy is subjective, and offensive, because it is comedy.
She started receiving so much hate and rape threats, with verbal sexual abuse being meted out to her. One of the perpetrators had the audacity to threat rape by describing in disgusting detail how he would physically mutilate her body. Others destroyed her stand-up venues and harassed, slut-shamed and trolled her online.
She apologized for having hurt the sentiments of the people who were offended by tweeting out “My heartfelt apologies to followers of the great leader, who I sincerely respect”. But the harassment did not stop.
I am sorry for having hurt the sentiments of the many followers of the great leader Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. My heartfelt apologies to followers of the great leader, who I sincerely respect. The video has already been taken down. Please amplify.
— Agrima Joshua 🇮🇳 (@Agrimonious) July 10, 2020
She was continuously targeted, and for the next couple of days outrage spread like wildfire. Thankfully, the harassers and abusers who used the most unthinkable words and threatened to rape her were arrested, but is that what it has come to? We women can face any amount of harassment for talking and joking about political issues that are literally shaking our country?
Freedom of speech is an invalid concept in India, and artists face persecution everyday for expressing dissent.
Joshua continued to receive verbal abuse despite tweeting out her apology and deleting her video from YouTube. She is also facing legal consequences too, as a result of insulting a much beloved historical figure. This is the true face of our country, a country where marital rape is legal but expressing opinions isn’t.
Comedy is subjective, and offensive, because it is comedy. Yes, I can agree with her jokes being offensive to a particular section of the society but did that entail her to receive rape threats and graphic details of how she would be genitally mutilated? It pains me to explain how she was threatened, because I know I am not safe in my country. Dissent isn’t tolerated, opinions aren’t tolerated. Such is the gravity of the situation that other comedians are apologizing for their jokes as well. Aadar Malik, another comedian, took to twitter to apologize for his “offensive comedy”. But, unfortunately apologies are failing to suffice. Comedians – especially women- are threatened with abuse and death any second of the day.
Journalism is supposed to be objective, unfortunately I can’t be today. In the twenty first century, apparently to ‘teach a woman a lesson’ immediately reckons one physically claiming our body. Our bodies are for everyone to claim, and do whatever you want with them. Every day that I wake up, I am disgusted to face the reality of how normalized rape culture is. Freedom of speech is an invalid concept in India, and artists face persecution everyday for expressing dissent.
You can’t claim to destroy a woman’s vagina and think that is normal. You can’t get away with this.
I am appalled by the nature of hate women can receive for having the ability to joke or speak up about important issues. I am not here trying to explain or to justify Agrima’s comments. I am here for the sake of my kind that is oppressed every goddamn day. I am here because she received verbal abuse that sickened me to my core. You can’t claim to destroy a woman’s vagina and think that is normal. You can’t get away with this.
I am glad the people who abused her verbally were arrested, but that’s not enough. This is the reality that we live in, this rape culture that we partake in has become so normalized, it is hard to breathe.
In support of Agrima, comedians such as Vir Das, Kusha Kapila, Srishti Dixit, Mallika Dua and other female comics came up with satiric videos about how dissent and ‘offensive comments’ are highly politically ground-breaking in India when our whole country is in shambles. No, this normalization of rape culture is not going to be tolerated. Our bodies are not yours to abuse, and the fact that I have to goddamn spell this out is offensive to me. Agrima is one of many whose voice has been silenced, who has been coerced into apologizing about her stand up by disgusting people. It is enough, that is what it is. It is just enough.