Out of India: Grin mightier than the sword
Saturday 26 September 1992
The laugh-in was devised recently by a man in Bangalore named M D Nanjunda Swamy. He is not much of a comedian, and the few jokes he tried telling me (admittedly, they were translated out of the local Kannara language) fell so very flat I couldn't even pretend to chuckle.
But Mr Nanjunda Swamy does not earn his living being funny. He came to humour rather late in life. By training, he is a professor of constitutional law, a former MP for Karnataka state and a connoisseur of jails. 'I've seen the insides of almost all the prison-houses of Karanataka,' said Mr Nanjunda Swamy, 55, a serene and rather quiet man with silvery hair. A champion of Karnataka's small farmers, he has dared to challenge the state's despotic Chief Minister, S Bangarappa, by laughing at him in a big way.
Earlier this year Mr Nanjunda Swamy gathered 50,000 farmers to sit outside the state secretariat and tried to 'laugh the government out'. They had tried all the usual forms of non-violent protest - sit-ins, blockades, refusing to pay taxes, picketing, blockading roads - but the state government remained unmoved by the farmers' pleas for land reforms and an increase in produce prices. The farmers' only reward was getting arrested or shot.
The farmers, surrounded by policemen, just sat on the lawn outside the government building and told jokes against Mr Bangarappa. And the jokes? 'They were puns, actually,' Mr Nanjunda Swamy said. After warming up the farmers with a little word-play, it was enough simply to say 'Bangarappa]' over the megaphone and the farmers would shake with laughter. The police made no arrests ('How could they? All we did was laugh') and no public property was damaged. 'It's as easy to make people laugh as to make them angry. Laughter can be a very powerful weapon against the government,' Mr Nanjunda Swamy said. However, when confronted with these jeers, Mr Bangarrapa, who is as rhino-skinned as any politician, did not flee the secretariat weeping and immediately resign.
Still, Mr Nanjunda Swamy was undeterred.' Bangarappa is a very uncouth man. I imagine he didn't take it much to heart. But come election time, I think the voters will remember how ridiculous he is.'
Mr Nanjunda Swamy took a page from Mahatma Gandhi's thinking on non-violence. Gandhi called it satyagraha, which in Sanskrit means 'a pressurising for truth'. Gandhi is said to have been influenced by the story of a prince in one of the Upanishads (Sanskrit philosophical treatises). 'The prince asks his father the meaning of life,' Mr Nanjunda Swamy said. 'His father, the king, dismisses him in disgust, and tells him to go ask Yama, the god of death. The prince does, and that is satyagraha.'
This talk of death brought us to hunger strikes, an everyday occurrence in India. A hunger strike is less shocking, perhaps, in a nation where so many people are starving to death than it would be in reasonably affluent Britain. But Mr Nanjunda Swamy claims that since independence from Britain, tens of thousands of Indians have gone on hunger strike but nobody has died on one. '. . . these people today, they say they'll fast until death, knowing that they'll break the strike in one or two days.'
No, the laughing protest has more possibilities than a hunger strike. You don't often die from laughter. But where's the challenge? Politicians, be they in Bangalore or Downing Street, are simply too easy to laugh at.
Jennifer Lawrence attacks mass media again over body image
Paris charity auction staged to save the ancient city of Tyre
scienceScientists find the answer to a question that even puzzled Darwin
A very timely Great Train Robbery and a frantic 24 Hours in A&E among the highlights
arts + entsThe 'Friends' actor on his new role as campaigner on addiction issues
Jennifer Lawrence: 'It should be illegal to call someone fat on TV'
Colin Farrell reveals ‘affair’ with Elizabeth Taylor: 'She was my last romantic relationship'
Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
Devyani Khobragade: India-US row escalates over arrest of diplomat in New York
Peter O'Toole: Tales of the late film icon
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
You can STILL be jailed for being a republican, government confirms, and it remains illegal to even 'imagine' overthrowing the Queen
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber announces he's 'retiring from music'
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- < Previous
- Next >
Negotiable: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Chemistry Teacher requ...
£Attractive Package: Citifocus: Senior project manager with Fund Data experien...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + Fantastic Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: A top i...
£30000 - £45000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: Recruiting at a rapid rate o...