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Updated: April 9, 2013 11:27 IST

Add a dash of humour

  • Girija Shivakumar
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Invitation: To a humour-filled evening.
Invitation: To a humour-filled evening.

A unique celebration took place on April Fool’s Day, where patriarchal conventions were challenged with wit and laughter

This year a group of women who are vocal about women’s rights and part of the feminist movement decided to spend a joyous evening filled with comedy, music and theatre on April 1 at The India Habitat Centre in the Capital. The performances, depicting the unusual union of ‘fun’ and ‘feminism’, debunk the popular belief that feminism does not lend itself to comedy.

The evening was marked by the release of a “feminist” Joke Book in Hindi and English by Kamla Bhasin and Bindia Thapar, published by women’s group Jagori.

The celebration continued with powerful musical performances by Sonam Kalra, Swaang (a Mumbai-based cultural group), Community Women’s group and students group. This was followed up by a short comedy skit presented by Ktyayni, directed by Suhaila Kapur that left the audience in splits. Humour was the device of the evening to defy the multi-faceted dimensions of Indian patriarchy.

Penning her pot-shots at patriarchy, activist Kamla Bhasin has translated her book 2004 book Laughing Matters to Hasna to Sangharshon Mein Bhi Zaroori hai in Hindi. “Women’s place is in the house — a good enough reason for them to be in both Houses of Parliament”. “They demand not just copper-T, but also property”. Through a collection of one-liners and wisecracks, Ms. Bhasin proves that it is as important to laugh at oneself. “We are Feminists! We are against ALL HIERARCHY! But yes, sometimes, there is some ANARCHY in our group” and ‘Who says we are powerless? Haven’t they seen our power to gossip and nag?”

An expert self-deprecator, Ms. Bhasin said: “You can say it and yet not say it with humour. The main theme is attacking patriarchal thinking and practices. It is to make fun of men for their lack of contribution to the home and with the family.”

“It is essential to laugh at ourselves. Feminists take themselves too seriously. Only if your struggle is going to be short, can you afford to have long faces? I have always felt the need for humour and joy in the women’s movement. As our struggle is going to be long we need to enjoy the journey as well!” she told The Hindu.

While most of the jokes are infused with jest, the author is cautious to not allow the underlying meaning to slip into a careless banter. Ms. Bhasin scrutinised the prejudices against women in an attempt to reveal their ridiculousness and encourage people to laugh at the folly of sexist views. “Anger and rage are powerful tools according to some people. Some people have questioned my use of humour. However, why can’t we use multiple tools? There are multiple situations we need multiple tools as well as multiple reactions.”

Realising the potency of comic weapons, Ms. Bhasin retorted to the ‘ridiculousness of patriarchy’ with satire and burlesque to depict the discriminations encountered by women. “My book and I are a part of the movement and this is one of my expressions. I believe in pluralism,” affirmed Ms. Bhasin.

Ritu Menon, a fellow feminist and co-founder of Kali for Women, reiterated the power of humour as a tactful method of subversion. “Humour and sarcasm are powerful devices. Laughter is also the best means to communicate serious messages. There is not just laughing but also absorbing the message without it being hammered on the head.”

Institutions and individuals seem to be reconsidering their strategies of feminism using contemporary methods of representation. “It was great to see so many young people, including young men. Humour directly engages with people and gets direct responses. This is half the battle won since there is an immediate response,” added Ms. Menon.

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