Indian court to hear petition seeking to ban Sikh jokes

Lawyer says thousands of websites feature jokes portraying Sikh community as ‘stupid’

Sikh devotees taking part in a ritual procession. The distinctive turbaned community have occupied senior jobs in India since independence in 1947. Photograph: AFP Photo

Sikh devotees taking part in a ritual procession. The distinctive turbaned community have occupied senior jobs in India since independence in 1947. Photograph: AFP Photo

 

India’s supreme court will hear arguments in an appeal early next year seeking to ban archetypal jokes about India’s minority Sikh community.

Sikh lawyer Harvinder Chowdhury, who has taken the case, said thousands of websites featured jokes portraying her 25 million strong community as “stupid, naive and foolish”.

The jokes, she stated, violated Sikhs’ fundamental “right to life and dignity”.

“Enough is enough, as we Sikhs have endured a lifetime of mockery,” Ms Chowdhury said from her office in the supreme court. “My children want to drop their Sikh surnames, because they face ridicule. These jokes are the bane of Sikhs. They have to go.”

The judges’ reaction, while admitting the unusual plea, was droll. “Many people [Sikhs] we know take these jokes sportingly,” they said. “They may not be an insult, but only some comic statement for amusement. You want all such jokes to stop, but Sikhs may themselves oppose it.”

The judges offered Ms Chwodhury the option of shifting her case to a Sikh judge, a proposal she declined.

The widely respected, predominantly agrarian Sikh community is considered rough, humourous and irreverent, but dependable, dogged and imaginative.

In inverse proportion to their small number – less than 2 per cent of India’s population of 1.25 billion are Sikhs – the distinctive turbaned community have occupied senior jobs in India since independence in 1947.

These have included the ceremonial presidency and most senior posts in the security forces, especially the military, with at least three Sikhs heading India’s army and air force.

The valour of Sikh troops and officers in both World Wars was recently commemorated in Britain. India’s former prime minister Manmohan Singh is a highly respected, Oxbridge-educated Sikh whom US president Barack Obama referred to as his “guru” in economic matters.

Expatriate Sikhs have also played political roles in countries such as Britain and the US, and over a dozen were recently appointed ministers in the newly elected Canadian parliament. These included Harjit Singh Sajjan, who became defence minister.

“I have fought with fellow lawyers in the courts for making fun of Sikhs,” Ms Chowdhury said, adding the body which looks after the community’s gurdwaras, or temples, had offered her their support.

As examples of ridiculing the Sikh community through jokes, Ms Chowdhury appended a list of them to bolster her argument.

Sikh (on the phone): Doctor my wife is pregnant. She is having pain right now

Doctor: Is this her first child?

Sikh: No, this is her husband.

Or

Boss (to Sikh employee): Where were you born?

Sikh: India.

Boss: Which part?

Sikh: Whole body was born in India.