A Dalit comedy group and Press Club of India are currently at odds

Blue Material alleges their event was scrapped due to caste but the club insists it received complaints about their performance.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep
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There’s tension brewing between Delhi’s Press Club of India and a Dalit comedy collective called Blue Material.

Last month, three members of the collective – Radhe Krishna Ram, Ravi Gaikwad and Manaal Patil – were performing at the Press Club’s premises at Raisina Road. Halfway through the show, club president Gautam Lahiri stopped the show due to “vulgar” language. 

Blue Material alleges the event was scrapped due to their caste, but the club maintained it had received complaints over the performance.

Adding to the confusion is that the club claimed they never even invited the group to perform, while Blue Material claimed this is not true.

Oddly, it was also the group’s second attempt at holding a show at PCI.

Newslaundry spoke to both parties to piece together what had happened.

The club’s version 

Blue Material models itself on Def Comedy Jam, an all-Black comedy show from the 1990s. The “blue” in their name references the anti-caste movement and their style of risqué comedy. 

Events at PCI are organised strictly through formal applications with the recommendation of a present member of the club and the payment of a rental charge. Otherwise, PCI can choose to host the event, in which case the rental charge is waived. 

In an official statement to Newslaundry, PCI said they met with Gaikwad on December 5 and 9 to discuss the possibility of a performance. Gaikwad had allegedly approached club secretary Neeraj Thakur, giving the reference of another club member, and expressed interest in performing on the club’s premises on December 8. 

Gaikwad allegedly asked that Blue Material be paid Rs 42,000 for the performance. The club said it refused, saying it could not compensate for events as a non-profit, and it would be impossible to “raise sponsorship at such short notice”.

The matter was left at that. 

PCI said Gaikwad got back in touch on December 9 and asked if his group could perform on December 13. PCI claimed it asked Gaikwad to provide clippings of their previous shows and also asked him to apply formally to perform at the club. 

No clippings or formal application arrived, PCI said. But on December 13, Gaikwad, Radhe and Patil allegedly turned up at the club for a performance. PCI said it allowed them to use their conference hall “in good faith” since the collective “champions the voice of the Dalits community.”

Contradictions on Dec 13

But Nitin Sethi, a PCI member and founding member of The Reporters’ Collective, told Newslaundry this wasn’t what happened at all. He said he was familiar with Blue Material and had helped them organise shows before in Delhi.

“I had recommended them along with other PCI members for the PCI to host and invite them and PCI had agreed to do so,” he said. This was corroborated by Blue Material’s Gaikwad, who said he agreed to perform for no pay, hoping the show would open the door for more gigs.

Accordingly, Blue Material arrived at the club on December 13 but “hardly anyone had shown up since no one was really aware of the show”.

“It was evident that it was not going to be a proper show. We had to invite people sitting at the club to attend the show if they were interested. At the end, 10-12 people showed up and we performed,” he said.

Sethi or the group members, however, had no written permission from the PCI to back their claims.

Sethi said, “Upon learning how the group had been mistreated, the president had then apologised with his hands folded for the wrong actions of his teammates and later requested the group to perform the next day in the open grounds as a recompense.”

Gaikwad said Lahiri “blamed what had happened on miscommunication” and promised to give the collective space the following day in PCI’s outer courtyard, complete with mics. 

Lahiri said this didn’t happen at all. He alleged Sethi created a “ruckus” by accusing PCI of  “sabotaging” the show, and that Sethi demanded Blue Material be allowed to perform on the open lawn the next day.

“Finally I, as the president of PCI, intervened and pacified the matter. It was verbally agreed that Blue Material would be provided the space to perform their comedy show in the lawn area,” he said.

Crucially, the comedians said they used the same supposedly “vulgar” material before ending the show that day, and received no criticism for it.

Allegations in bad faith, says PCI 

So, Blue Material accordingly arrived at the club a day later. But little had changed, said Gaikwad, who also acts as the collective’s manager.

“They provided us with two Ahuja microphone systems that could barely cover 25 percent of the club’s outer courtyard,” he claimed. “We spent almost 40 minutes of our allotted time” – usually an hour and a half – “to fix the audio issue but still couldn’t. Then we decided to go ahead with what we have.”

There were perhaps 100 people sitting in the courtyard but most of them allegedly had no idea a performance was scheduled to take place.

“No one knew who was performing or the context. People were there to have drinks and we fellows were talking and throwing jokes,” said Gaikwad, who opened the performance as host. “It took me 55 minutes to set the stage for the next comedians.”

Radhe took the stage after Gaikwad. He said there was “total chaos” with “hardly 14-15 people actually watching” out of the crowd of perhaps 100.

“Nothing was proper, from sounds to lights to seating arrangements. The sound was so poor that even those in the front row were finding it difficult to hear,” he claimed. “I was also getting frustrated at the disrespect to my art. I was performing and someone was drinking and standing just in front of me, talking to others.” At one point, he told someone in the audience “we just need some silence and respect”.

As Radhe continued his performance, cracking a joke on masturbation, he alleged that club president Lahiri approached him and “snatched the mic”. Lahiri was accompanied by a “few others”.

“He told us to stop the show. He said they received complaints that we were talking about masturbation,” claimed Ravi. “But there’s never a ruckus because of a single joke. The ruckus is created based on the whole show and a joke is only used as a trigger point to blow it out of proportion.”

Which is why Gaikwad believes the event was scrapped “because of their caste and blue comedy”.

Sethi concurred. He said, “I found the behaviour and the tone of some of the PCI officials laced with undertones of casteism and disrespect which the PCI would never show to other guests it regularly invites and hosts.”

PCI termed the allegations against the club of being casteist as being made in “bad faith.” In an official statement, the club maintained the trigger for stopping the show was the “use of extremely vulgar language which caused a lot of discomfiture among some of the women members”.

“They complained to me, which I was obligated to address. The liberal use of vulgar words such as ‘masturbation’, ‘chudai’, ‘fucking’, etc, were specifically mentioned by the complainants,” the statement said.

“Had PCI been given the clips of Blue Material’s previous shows, as requested on two occasions, the club would have made alternative arrangements without inconveniencing or causing discomfort to those not interested in listening,” it added.

But Sethi told Newslaundry: “If the PCI management claims after talking for weeks with the Blue Material group, it wasn’t even aware of what the group does, and yet, twice badly organised and hosted their event in the club, then they are admitting to additional incompetence which I have little to compliment them about it.”

He added: “To me, the vulgarity was just an excuse that was used to deny Dalit artists space in the name of protecting the dignity of women by some men.”

A journalist who had been present during the failed show on December 13 told Newslaundry she would not characterise the jokes as “vulgar”. 

“The language was ok, very Gen Z  language. They might have used cuss words a lot here and there. But when they started the performance, it was clear what they were going to talk about,” she said. “...I can understand somebody might not have liked the language. Because people cannot associate these issues to be mixed with sex jokes or certain use of certain words. But overall it was fine. I might criticise them for their comedy but not their choice of words.”

Surabhi Kanga, a board member at the Press Club and web editor at The Caravan, said: “I was present in the audience during the performance. I had no issues with the comedy myself – I found it pretty edgy, funny and subversive. Comedy is a great way to have some tough conversations, both around sex and around caste. I felt the comedians were doing this quite well.” 


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