OPINION: By Feenzu Sherpa

A topic that has been almost divided the internet, and has raised a debate between where a line should be drawn in freedom of expression is the arrest of stand-up comedian Apoorwa Kshitiz Singh. Singh was arrested after many from the Newar community filed a case against him accusing him of passing racially derogatory comments that hurt the sentiments of the Newari community in his recent stand-up.

On August 29, Kathmandu District Court remanded Singh to an additional 10 days of judicial custody to further investigation into the matter.

The said video, posted on YouTube, was shortly removed after a severe backlash. Ever since, Singh has also taken to social media to issue two public apologies, and has said his intent was not to hurt the sentiments of the Newari community.

Ironically, in another video clicked by a complainant while Apoorwa was being detained, we can hear some shouting the word “Dhoti” to Apoorwa and some even have taken steps to pass derogatory comments at the Madhesi people via social media, but let’s not head into that direction.

Religious and cultural topics are always gnarly to approach, even we are afraid of the backlash this article is going to receive. However, amidst all these – one question sticks. Why aren’t sexist jokes/content not tackled with same amount of seriousness?

Mostly, jokes are meant to be taken lightly, but when jokes regarding cultures can lead to imprisonment of comedians, we might as well look seriously into sexist remarks coated as ‘jokes’ which degrade women and leads to dangerous social repercussions.

Online trolling, harassing and bullying women is rampant in Nepal and misogynistic remarks not only promote stereotypes but also aid in perpetuating catcalling and violence against women and girls.

According to a UN report ‘Cyber Violence against Women and Girls: Worldwide Wake-Up Call’, one in three women will experience some form of violence in her lifetime and 73% of women have endured cyber violence, and women are 27 times more likely than men to be harassed online.

One of the questionable Nepali shows is Blind Date where we can observe sexist remarks and even harassment, wrapped around connecting two participants through a ‘blind date’. However, it falls flat on its face to promote any kind of healthy romance or dates.

In one of the episodes of the first season of the show a male participant tells his date, “I guess you had 20-25 boyfriends in past as your body looks like it’s sucked-up (of all its juices)”, continuously looks at her breasts, and goes on to objectify her body in a grotesque manner.

Without facing consequences from producing such controversial contents in first season, the popularity gained through such remarks boosted the confidence of crew and encouraged the makers of the show to produce season two of the show.
Similarly, some sets from participants of Comedy Champion, a pioneer standup comedy-based reality show in Nepal, promoted several commentaries that are dehumanizing and humiliating for women under the garb of jokes.

During the audition rounds, one participant cracks a ‘joke’ saying, “Earlier it was easy to thrash a girl. Like, we could casually beat a girl like nothing, but now it is difficult.” Similarly, another participant, who while repeatedly saying that he respects girls, makes a ‘joke’ in the line of “people continuously say girls are falling behind. Where did they fall behind? Behind the bikes of 3-4 guys”.

The participant making sexist punchlines while saying he respects women might be the only ‘funny’ part of the stand-up skit. A reality show such as Comedy Champion with an average of 1 million viewers can surely shape public opinion in a significant way. Casually using sexist remarks as well as heavy cussing has become a usual scene in Nepali stand-up skits, but if one needs to rely on such commentaries to make their ‘jokes’ work, maybe it’s time to look for a new career.

Meanwhile, such contents are can be seen lauded and encouraged in the comments section – begging attention to another emerging issue to be reported another time – “Are content creators, news and media organisations liable to moderate comments in the stories they publish?”