Stand-Up for What


2nd July, 2021

Written by Muskaan Palod
Illustrated by Suryansh Srivastava

Recently we saw the likes of famous stand up comics being called out for their casteist and misogynistic ‘jokes’. It invited a huge wave of critique and the most common argument made was that those ‘jokes’ were made a decade ago and should not be scrutinised with today’s lens. This wrongly implies that casteism and misogyny were okay a decade ago. Truth is, DBA voices have gained access to the internet and some social clout in the past couple of years which they perhaps did not before. Therefore to say that accountability today is not ‘needed’ is discardable and in fact, outrageous. Words are powerful and form schemas, cognitive frameworks, for generations, especially when spoken by people of ‘clout’ and ‘influence’.  


Contextualising that, I believe what is resented today as ‘cancel culture’ is simply just a way for the community to act like one, like a community. It is of utmost importance to gauge who is ‘calling out’ and who is refusing accountability with the fear of being ‘cancelled’. Since when did we reject the notion of making (grave) mistakes, apologising and reforming to become better individuals? What makes one evade accountability? What makes one evade reformation and growth? But most of all, how do we define structural and pervasive issues (such as caste) outside the legal construct? Some people quote saying caste does not exist or that there is a reverse dynamic to it, then how is it that we are still laughing about jokes on reservations? 


The idea of this article is to reflect on how we as individuals either ‘call out’, ‘call in’ or the opposite, under the garb of ‘cancel culture’ leave out the responsibility to learn and do better. 


What does the word community mean to you? 

If you place a fern

under a stone

the next day it will be

nearly invisible

as if the stone has

swallowed it.


If you tuck the name of a loved one

under your tongue too long

without speaking it

it becomes blood


the little sucked-in breath of air

hiding everywhere

beneath your words.


No one sees

the fuel that feeds you.


Hidden by Naomi Shihab Nye

The fuel that fills one is the power of community - it gives you quite everything: resources, access to those resources, vocabulary to seek resources and the ability to respond to a stimulus (by presenting any and all stimulus to you). While this space gives (an insurmountable amount), it asks for a degree of responsibility all alike, some people more than others. This responsibility is to make space for marginalised and minority groups. Ultimately, this question boils down to Who are we responsible for and who is responsible for us? Contextualising with respect to our country, able-bodied, oppressive caste, cisgender and heterosexual folks must assume this responsibility since they occupy most space. Since our academic or social fabric simply denies the discussion of existing ableism, casteism, patriarchy, oppressive groups live their entire lives in denial of the fact that they are in fact the oppressors. 


How is harm caused?

In case boundaries are breached and an active/passive harm is done, active amends are required. Boundaries are tricky and therefore navigating them can be challenging. There is no community without trust and there’s no trust without boundaries: both setting them with people and respecting the boundaries of others as equal to yours.


If I know person X is queerphobic, as a queer person I would definitely disengage with X. Anybody who calls themselves an ally will probably refrain from platforming person X with the intent to prevent harm that they know X may cause. The expectation that the oppressed must continue to act ‘civil’, ‘kind’ or ‘polite’ is rooted in extremely colonial and also brahaminical as a discourse. Not implying that harm begets harm, but harm certainly does not have to beget inclusion by the person who is harmed, not before someone like X actively reflects the work they have done to not be oppressive in their words or actions. 

“That’s all boundaries are and that’s all ‘cancelling’ is: People deciding what they want and don’t want in their lives. Deciding what they will and won’t put their energy and/or money towards. People don’t have to deal with everything and everybody”, the popular Twitter psychotherapist, QueeringPsych wrote a detailed blog post about community accountability and underscored this.  He went on to explain that “restorative justice and change for those who have caused harm is not possible if the community/environment is not set up for change.” 


Despite what some internet shot to fame self-proclaimed cishet “feminist” or “activist” men claim, there are absolutely no real-life consequences to predators on the top of social hierarchy. What is caused at maximum is an inconvenience and probably the labour to reflect and think. The question is why is it inconvenient and discomforting for us to reflect on our mistakes and take accountability? 


Can we move away from calling it “cancelling” and probably term it as “crisis intervention”, a culture where we realise the potential we can bring to our communities and conform to those evolving standards? 


Having said that, it is understood that some of these interventions do not go as thought out, some may not be thought out at all and some just die down without being “enough”. 

Too many of us have been traumatized and have had our entire lives changed by police, courts, systemic oppression in all social institutions for us to really think we are the ones they are protecting and serving. At some point you start to realize on many levels that we aren’t being protected and we need to do our own labour to ensure safety and basic human boundaries, which includes tenets of social justice. 


What is canceling culture not (in India)? 

Incarceration. Our setup is not like in the West. When someone is called out, it does not amount to them being cut off from living income or social relationships. I could give a number of examples - acts of harm ranging from assault to non-physical misconduct to transgressions of various degrees. We live in a country where there is no consequence, no accountability and the labour to point out the harm also lies with the one harmed. 


The one place where there are real consequences is for the political prisoners - ones arrested for journalism, for protesting against CAA-NRC, for protesting against farmer laws. This is not limited to the draconian UAPA but also extended by the online troll army of the BJP IT cell. India’s dogma of Hindutva politics has taken a malicious turn. Under this precarious political climate, anything that antagonises Hindutva ideology faces indelible wrath - including online rape threats, real time lynching and doxxing on the internet is a usual phenomenon actively engaged in by the far right. 


It is also important to reflect on who usually is found using the term ‘cancel culture’. Mostly, far right/ Sangh groups, people called out for the harm they caused or by their bigotry, or people accused of assault and violence often deflect from their responsibility in society. 


Crisis intervention discourse, wherein people call each other out in the community with the sole intent to make every space accessible and safe for all, is radical and speaks to me of transformation.