June 21, 2019
The online sphere has become toxic in Nepal.
The arrest of comedian Pranesh Gautam earlier this month for a video, where he disparages a recently released Nepali film, sparked conversations about the declining state of freedom of expression and civil liberties in the country. But it also had an intended effect, bringing to light the sexism, racism, misogyny and homophobia so pervasive in much of the contents produced by social media comedians like Gautam for ‘troll’ humour pages.
In an interview with the Post, actor Reecha Sharma, one of the few individuals from the film industry to speak out publicly against Gautam’s arrest, said that she hopes Meme Nepal, the page that published Gautam’s video, would use this opportunity to reflect on the type of content they have created and endorsed in the past.
“While I totally oppose Pranesh’s arrest, it’s time for people behind such pages to do a bit of introspection,” Sharma said last week. “You can’t keep attacking people under the guise of humour.”
In the days since Gautam’s release, many public figures and comedians themselves have said that pages like Meme Nepal need to start becoming mindful of the impact and the influence their content, which often veer into personally offensive attacks, can have on other people.
Following Gautam’s detention, Meme Nepal, possibly the most popular Nepali meme page with over 1.1 million followers, posted an apology.
But if you scroll through the Meme Nepal page’s archive, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to find the kind of humor the group has endorsed. In just the past month, the page has posted several memes propagating racist and sexist stereotypes.
A cartoon of a woman with an elongated nose shattering a TV screen is captioned, “When a Brahmin Girl works as a TV journalist.
“Boys without vulgarity are sister materials,” written on another post feeding into the sexist trope that being a man is to be vulgar.
These posts are just the tip of the iceberg. As in many countries around the world, the meme culture in Nepal has also been fueled by sexist and misogynist content, with racist stereotypes and jokes about rape pervasive among these ‘troll’ pages.
One such Facebook page, ‘Dank Gorkhe Stories’, which posted an incessant tirade of rape jokes, was taken down by Facebook last week after several individuals reported its content. The page, which was created in 2017, had over 22,000 followers at the time it was closed down.
“Some group of feminists got offended over a joke published on Dank Gorkhe Stories and mass reported it,” wrote Pragyan Rimal, one of the page’s administrators, in a Facebook post announcing the group’s decision to close three pages associated with the brand.
What was written in the post? This:
“Always respect the rape victim,” they told him. “Why? Cause she handled three d**ks at a time?”, the reply made them speechless.”
Some of those who reported the page to Facebook, including the creator of the ‘Nepali Feminist’ page on Instagram, said the jokes on the Dank Gorkhe page went beyond humor—they normalised rape. But those associated with the page continue to defend its content.
“It’s just about one’s perception, isn’t it? The thing that can offend me can make you laugh and vice versa,” Rimal said in an interview with the Post. “Black comedy is a new thing for Nepali humor market, we just tried to introduce it. If a certain group of people didn’t like it, we are okay with it.”
Describing their content as ‘dark humor’ was the most common defence from the creators of pages like Dank Gorkhe Stories and Meme Nepal, many of whom are young men in their teens and early 20s.
“We are not endorsing rape, we are just trying to spark a conversation about rape,” Anubhav, the founder of Dank Gorkhe Stories, told the Post last week. “Our motive is to encourage people to have discussions about taboo topics such as rape and acid attacks which make people uncomfortable.”
Anubhav, who asked only to be identified by his first name, was 17 when he started the page two years ago. He said he no longer handles the day-to-day operation of the page.
“I knew that our page would offend some people,” he said. “But people who follow our page understand our intentions.”
While Dank Gorkhe Stories has been shut down, numerous other such pages continue to regularly post racist and misogynist content.
Syavage, a Facebook page with over 9,000 followers, has made jokes about bride burning, trafficking, untouchability, rape and revenge porn. The Post is not linking to these pages, but here’s one sample.
“Damn Girl you’re so hot said the Madhesi Nibba after he set his wife on fire.”
The page’s administrator, who refused to reveal his identity, said he understood that the posts are offensive and that some of them go too far. According to the individual, he did not expect the page to be operating for this long.
Prince Paul, the administrator of another similar page, Supreme Court of Nepol, said his objective was to introduce dark comedy to Nepali audience.
What does dark comedy mean? “Idk, it’s like f**ked up humour,” he said.
“There may be some normal portion of the audience who may think we enjoy rape and are promoting it,” he said, “but all we doing is opposing [sic] is sarcastically giving fine satire.”
When asked how a cartoon showing a group of men giggling at the prospect of raping a girl was sarcastic, he said: “It’s like you are asking the movie director why your villain was laughing so loud while raping the girl in the movie scene.”
But even comedians disagree with this defence.
“That’s not what dark humour is supposed to be,” said Shradhha Verma, a social worker who has dabbled in stand-up comedy. “The end message of any joke shouldn’t be discriminatory towards anyone.”
According to Verma, it’s not that comedians can’t talk about sensitive topics at all, but there’s a way of doing it right.
“It all comes down to how you say it,” said Verma. “Just don’t be insensitive.”
Even as the operators of such troll pages continue to defend themselves, many others don’t share their sensibilities.
“I think it’s important for every individual to realise that freedom of speech comes with a certain responsibility,” said Yukta Bajracharya, a poet. “Just because you have the freedom doesn’t mean you can go around denigrating a certain individual, group or community, especially those who are already marginalised.”
Bajracharya said these pages are problematic because a lot of their followers are impressionable young people who may not be able to interpret them critically.
“I don’t think these comedians are harmless,” said Bajracharya. “They are actually promoting and encouraging attitudes that objectify women and promote rape culture.”
Sangita Thebe Limbu, a social science researcher, said she was more shocked reading the number of comments approving and affirming the posts published by Dank Gorkhe Stories than the actual content themselves.
“It was easy to see that the platform was promoting toxic masculinity,” said Limbu. “There was a sense of brotherhood between those who posted the jokes and those who found them funny and liked them.”
After Nepali Feminist called out Dank Gorkhe Stories for its content on its Instagram page, it received several abusive messages from the page’s followers.
“The only thing that’s gonna go inside of you is my d**k,” another said.
“That’s why such pages are problematic,” the woman running the Nepali Feminist page said. “Such jokes normalise rape, and even though the page creator may not intend to endorse rape, they unknowingly are doing just that.”