Harassment allegations silence All India Bakchod

Graphic by Kinsey Couture ’21

Graphic by Kinsey Couture ’21

BY SHLOKA GIDWANI ’22

The Indian YouTube channel All India Bakchod (AIB) recently faced controversy after a freelance comedian who worked with the channel, Utsav Chakraborty, was accused of sexual harassment. Writer and comedian Mahima Kukreja shared a Twitter thread on Oct. 4 accusing Chakraborty of sending her unsolicited pictures of his genitals. She also spoke on behalf of other women, some minors, who were either harassed by Chakraborty or felt unsafe in his presence.

Chakraborty acted in video sketches such as “AIB Commentaries: Flirty Messaging League,” “Honest Engineering Campus Placement” and co-wrote the AIB “Honest Indian Weddings” series. Kukreja claims that after the alleged incident of harassment by Chakraborty, she reported it to “two of the most influential men in comedy in India,” Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba, two of the four founders of the channel. In AIB’s most recent statement, the channel admits that Bhat knew about the allegations but failed to act upon them, continuing to allow Chakraborty to work for the channel.

After these allegations surfaced, Khamba’s ex-girlfriend accused him of harassing her via text. AIB’s Head of Human Resources Vidhi Jotwani called these accusations a “private matter.” In a statement released on social media, Khamba claims that the incident was merely a lovers’ spat that turned ugly, and went on to apologize for his actions.

Bhat and Khamba have been said to have changed the face of Indian comedy since their channel’s inception. AIB managed to deal with sensitive social issues through comedy in their videos, sketches and stand-up shows and have repeatedly used the platform to champion women’s rights.

In a country where freedom of speech is curbed under a pretended concern for “sentiments being hurt,” AIB first challenged these limitations through their “AIB Knockout” roast comedy show, which fearlessly mocked Bollywood actors Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor and other celebrities. The release of the episode saw numerous FIR (First Information Report) complaints filed to Mumbai police for slander and abusive language. and has since been removed from YouTube. However, it sparked serious debate about various social issues facing India, such as the “casting couch” culture, nepotism in the Bollywood industry and the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalist behavior after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

The AIB sketch “Every Bollywood Party Song” points out that objectification of women is not justified, even if it only appears in a song. AIB has also contributed to the TV show “Queens of Comedy,” which encourages female stand-up acts in the male-dominated Indian entertainment industry. Videos such as “Harassment through the Ages,” and “The One Stop Solution for Online Harassment” with the deadpan tagline “Harass her ass” raised awareness about sexual harassment and violence against women. Another powerful video, “Rape: It’s Your Fault,” featuring Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin, addresses rape culture in India, using dry sarcasm to condemn victim blaming.

So, where does this inaction against sexual harassment in their own place of work leave the comedic group? Cofounders Bhat and Khamba have taken temporary leave from the channel. Jotwani issued a statement on behalf of AIB, saying, “Truthfully, we don’t know what this means for the future of AIB or whether there is one. In the interim, Ashish Shakya, Rohan Joshi and other senior team members will work towards being able to answer that question over the next several months.”

Esha Sridhar ’22, who is from India, does not foresee the end of the channel. “Their statement was the most reasonable stance for them to take,” said Sridhar. “As for the end of the company, the fact that they themselves said that they don’t know the future… I think it leaves it on a good note.” Commenting on whether the videos now seem hypocritical after the allegations, she said, “AIB for me is a community [of writers and creators] and not the two people who are in the limelight. Regardless, the content still reached the masses. Saying that the content is not worthy because of their moral character cannot be put on the same plane because there are multiple writers [in AIB].”

The channel has stopped posting content to any of their social media sites, including YouTube.

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