Freedom of expression gone wrong? Paatal Lok angers Nepalis who seek apology from Indian actor Anushka Sharma

Published On: May 19, 2020 10:30 AM NPT By: Aditi Baral

KATHMANDU, May 19: Nepalis have been raging in an opinion war over the use of vulgar words on Nepali women in a new Indian web series titled Paatal Lok, an Amazon Prime production.    

The controversy erupted after a scene in the second episode of the series shows an Indian female police officer brutally beating a female and calling her a ‘Nepali whore’. The rage holds a point that stereotyping of Nepali women as ‘whores’ and calling her a ‘Nepali whore’ only exacerbates the discrimination against Nepali women. 

Nepali actor Reeccha Sharma wrote about the issue on her Facebook account. She wrote: “The use of demeaning language toward Nepali women in the series has saddened every Nepali. The producers should apologize for this and should remove the particular clip from the series.”

In addition, Sharma also wrote that many Nepali female actors and models have to deal with similar comments and personal attacks from the public, and it is important to speak out against such behaviors. 

“This is more like a concern than a problem. It is gut-wrenching to see the use of such words, and it seemed like such a comment was directed toward the entire Nepali women,” she told Republica Online. “It is good to see the public concerned about this issue, but it’s high time that we fought against such comments that many Nepali females have heard on a daily basis from our own people.” 

The series premiered on Amazon Prime video, starting May 15, and is produced by Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma. There are hundreds of comments from Nepalis in almost every video related to the series, asking Sharma to apologize to Nepali women and remove the particular clip from the series. 

Arjun Thapa wrote on his Facebook, saying that the video reflected racial hatred toward the Nepali community itself. “How dare you (the producers) do this to cheaply brand millions of hard-working community,” he writes adding, “I am an Indian Gurkha and I write this because it hurts me and my community as we have long been facing backlash due to portrayals like this, and you are just adding fuel to the fire”. 

Similar view was depicted in a post by Pralakshya Sharma, on her Instagram post, username @pralakshyas. She wrote, “This scene proves that the entire crew of the series is here to spread communal disharmony which is totally racist against the women of Nepal and my northeastern community”. 

However, some people contend that the neo-noir, crime thriller series has rather highlighted a horrific truth about the ongoing reality of women trafficking in both the nations – Nepal and India.

Anish Mainali, twitter @haaveumetanish, tweeted, “Instead of asking for an apology to brave content writers and producers, we should thank them for putting out an important issue about woman trafficking in Nepal. I advocate such series. Kudos to the creators for showing the dark side”. 

Others took to social media saying that the series has portrayed real problems on various issues, from discrimination based on caste, religion to gender or sexuality – all that has long remained hidden in the dark alleys of our community. 

Actress Keki Adhikari also mentioned that the use of such words in the series corresponds to what’s going on in our country itself. She argues that rather than pointing to others the public should be concerned about the way females have to deal with such a situation here at home.  “We are furious because they rebuked a woman mentioning the country’s name. But what about our own people doing this on a regular basis? Think deeply, let us ask ourselves? Does it not happen within our borders? Do people not use vulgar words to females here?” she questioned. 

However, experts say that the freedom to portray such issues is guaranteed under the freedom of expression. The use of such words targeting women, and a Nepali woman’ in particular seem to go against the ‘defamation law’. As per the jurisdiction of this law, unjustified attack on the moral, professional or even national reputation of a person or a group is against the law. 

“A film crew has the rights to portray the issues they want to portray, but it should be subjected to the law and privacy of others should be considered,” said constitutional expert Bhimarjun Acharya. 

Mina Uprety, sociologist and a professor at Tribhuvan University, explained that although the series showcases the awful scenario of the netherworld, and that corresponds to what’s going on in our society, the use of such words, directing toward a gender and a nation as a whole seem offensive. “It sounds hurtful,” Uprety said, adding, “to bring such issues amongst the public is a good thing. Women have long been subjected to harassment in every society, and to shed a light on the issue is commendable. However, the use of offensive slang, directed towards a particular nation is an offensive act and hurts our sentiments”.

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