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LOTUS FM’s love-it-or-hate-it Peru and Bala comedy skit is being probed by the South Africa Human Rights Commission for referring to a fictitious Indian woman as fat and ugly.
The Tamil Action Group (TAG), incensed by the insult, wants the commission to order the skit to be taken off the air for good. Its lawyer has described the comments as “hate speech”.
Commission spokesman, Isaac Mangena, yesterday confirmed receipt of the complaint, saying it would be investigated.
Peru and Bala airs on Saturday mornings and features its two creators, Vikash Mathura and Ray Maharaj – known as the “uncles” of comedy – and the shenanigans between them and their wives, Pathma and Savithree, and grandchildren Nine-Boy and Nine-Boy.
But TAG is demanding that the comedy duo make a public apology for the “blatant mockery and insult of women and south Indian women”, in particular.
Their “fat and ugly” jokes, especially in reference to Peru’s wife, Pathma, a Tamil name, were embarrassing, said the group’s attorney, Jessica Gounden. “This denigration is directed at south Indian women and divides the Indian community in derogatory terms along linguistic lines. All their mocking comments demean women which is a violation of human rights.”
Gounden said Lotus FM station manager, Alvin Pillay, and head of programming, Santosh Beharie, were also listed as respondents in the complaint, which comes after repeated unsuccessful complaints by retired academic Ashwin Singh, who is of north Indian decent, to the Broadcast Complaints Commission of SA and to Beharie.
“We are of the opinion that there has to be a very clear distinction between humour and such crass entertainment which borders on vulgarity and making a mockery of south Indian women, and it is unacceptable,” Gounden said. “It is hate speech.”
Gender activist, Dr Lubna Nadvi, said she supported the campaign against the Peru and Bala characters’ “denigrations of south Indian women, because of my commitment to ensuring that women are respected and treated with dignity across the board”.
“While artistic creativity should be allowed to thrive and enable freedom of expression in all forms of art, this freedom does not mean that any sector of our community should be referred to in a demeaning and undignified manner, especially on radio programmes, which is accessed by large sectors of society,” she said.
Nadvi said the duo often used words that seemed to entrench disrespect for their spouses and other women in their social circle. Listeners of the programme might emulate this, she said.
She called for the show to be produced in a manner that balanced humorous, yet respectful and dignified content.
Gounden said should the programme not be canned, TAG would apply to the high court to interdict the broadcast.
Mathura declined to comment and referred the Daily New to Lotus FM’s management. However, Pillay directed enquiries to the SABC whose spokesman, Kaizer Kganyago, had not responded by the time of publication.
Singh had said in a previous interview that Mathura and Maharaj’s alter egos, Peru and Bala, told jokes that had started off as mildly tolerable, but escalated to being vulgar.
“The one time one of them said he was going to buy a three-piece swimsuit for his wife – a bottom and top piece and the third to use as a blindfold because his wife is so fat,” he said.
In another joke, one said his wife was going to run and he would drive behind her with a sign reading “abnormal load”, Singh had said. “It is embarrassing and derogatory towards women.” - Daily News