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Former Supreme Court judge HS Bedi is the head of a committee that recently submitted a report in the apex court stating that cracking ‘Sardar jokes’ at the expense of Sikh students be treated as ragging and habitual offenders be rusticated from higher educational institutions.
1. What were the findings of the panel?
Ultimately, we realised that to enforce a complete ban on Sardar jokes would be impossible. And to set up a procedure where you could punish people for teasing Sikhs would be very difficult. In every school and college, you have anti-ragging rules, so we thought that (teasing Sikhs) should be treated as ragging, (while) at the workplace, people are grown up, they can handle things themselves.
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2. Did you come across any specific cases during the hearings?
We were not dealing with any specific case. But we do know, being Sikhs ourselves and having studied in schools, that there are incidents of ragging — although, to be honest, not very alarming. And there aren’t many Sikh boys with long hair even in Chandigarh. That’s the tragedy of the community.
3Should the suggestions of the panel be limited to just one community?
We have said that this could be the model for all minority communities. For people from the Northeast, there have been major problems; they had their own committee… The chairman of that committee was also a member of our panel. Their suggestions are far more comprehensive than ours.
4. People often bring up Khushwant Singh to justify Sardar jokes…
I love Sardar jokes myself. Eighty per cent of the time, the jokes on Sardars are initiated by Sardars themselves. I think one should not be over-sensitive. In any case, 90 per cent are well-intentioned. All these Santa-Banta things that everybody hears, they are happy jokes. They are not intended to humiliate anybody. I send these Sardar jokes on WhatsApp to a retired judge of the Supreme Court. He said to me the other day that you are heading that panel and you are circulating these jokes… We have not gone over the limit.
5. How does one draw the line between what’s in good humour and what’s not?
It is impossible to draw these lines. We have jokes about every community — Baniyas, Gorkhas, Jews. Everybody jokes about each other and one has to take it in that spirit. At the end of the day, it is not the grown-ups who are doing these things; it’s the children and the youngsters. Schools can make examples (of one or two), and people will stop doing it.