Netflix’s most recent original series from India — Jamtara — has been called out for use of a casteist slur aimed at the Dalit community, sparking debate over the use of pejorative terms in the realm of fiction entertainment. It’s somewhat in line with an ongoing debate over the use of racial slurs in the US. While directors such as Quentin Tarantino — his work includes Django Unchained, and Pulp Fiction — has defended his use of the term as a fair representation of the characters’ reality, others such as Spike Lee have taken offense. At the same time, the likes of Samuel L. Jackson have supported Tarantino, noting the context is key and its use is not limited to African-American artists.
In Jamtara, the casteist slur in question is uttered in the fifth episode of the Netflix series by Brajesh Bhan (Amit Sial), a wily, corrupt local politician who belongs to the so-called upper castes, and aimed at Rocky (Anshumaan Pushkar), an ambitious con artist who belongs to the so-called lower castes. Gadgets 360 had reached out to Netflix for comment from writer Trishant Srivastava and director Soumendra Padhi, but the streaming service said that it has always respected its artists’ freedom and that it had nothing more to say. Netflix also pointed to a disclaimer appended to the start of every Jamtara episode that clarifies the show is a piece of fiction.
Meanwhile, users on social media, including an influential fan page of B.R. Ambedkar — a major architect of the Constitution of India, and a prominent leader of social reforms for the Dalits — has called for police action against Netflix for allowing a casteist slur in its production. The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 dictates punishment for use of casteist slurs, but it’s not clear if that is applicable to “atrocities” committed by fictional characters on a fictional series. Still, many feel that merely putting it out there normalises its use.
In a statement to Gadgets 360, Dr. Afroz Taj, associate professor of South Asian Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Department of Asian Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said: “Although I haven’t seen the show you mentioned, I tend to lean toward saying that casteist slurs should not be used even in the cause of authenticity or creative licence. This question is similar to the debate in the United States about racist slurs which have been banned from commercial film and television.”