Santa Singh: Hey Banta, do you know when the Battle of Plassey was fought?
Banta Singh: No.
Santa Singh: Ok. Do you know when the first battle of Panipat was fought?
Banta Singh: Yes, in the year 1526.
Surprised? Didn’t get the joke? Well, good for you. Just like all other human beings, Santa and Banta don’t always joke. They too have normal conversations just like any of us. If you are an Indian, you would have definitely laughed at one of the thousands of Santa-Banta jokes. These jokes are so common that there’s even a Wikipedia page on it. Sikhs have even asked for the banning of the jokes several years ago. Underlying these jokes is the stereotype that has now also become a part of the popular culture of India- that Sardars are dumb, or at least Indian popular culture would have us think so. Sorry to disappoint you, people, the truth is pretty different from what you think.
Born in the state of Punjab, I have the privilege of calling myself a Punjabi. Having lived in Delhi and South of India, I have encountered many people who classify or think of sardars as dumb and funny people.
I remember my school days in Delhi when I had recently joined, students would ask me where I was from and on knowing that I was from Punjab they would ask me where my turban was. In a city where a majority of the population is ‘Punjabi’, this attitude is both offensive and unenlightened. Next I joined college in Manipal, in the south of India and the story remained the same. They were surprised at me not wearing a turban. I was surprised at them not knowing their own country.
Once in a train journey, a gentleman asked me where I was from. “Punjab”, I said. He asked, “What type of Sardar are you?” The man would have been around 50 years old and according to him, he had traveled almost all of the north India. If a literate 50-year-old asks you such a question, you know something is wrong with your country.
Some of you must still be wondering how is it that I am a Punjabi and yet I am not a sardar. To all you ignoramuses, I would advise you top up your literacy with a little bit of general knowledge or sense. Punjab is a state in India and a ‘Punjabi’ would be someone who lives in or belongs to the state of Punjab and Sardars and Sikhs are the followers of the religious sects of Sikhism. A Punjabi can be a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Christian, Jain etc. and a Sikh can belong to any part of the world. Being a Punjabi doesn’t mean you are a Sardar and being a Sardar doesn’t mean you are dumb. And another thing I would like you all to know is that all sardars don’t wear turbans; unturbaned Sikhs are called Mona Sardars. Man of the tournament in Cricket World Cup 2011 – Yuvraj Singh is one of them.
It’s surprising to me that people think like that because it doesn’t only show their immaturity but also shows their obliviousness towards their country.
The only officer in the Indian Air Force to be promoted to a five-star rank is a sardar – Air Chief Marshall Arjan Singh. Sardars are the backbone of the Indian Army which protect the countrymen. Have you ever thought of that and thanked them? No, right? Why would you? You are busy laughing at the Santa-Banta jokes and making fun of Sardars while ignoring your own dumbness.
Here’s what some people said when asked to reply with the first word that comes to their mind when they hear ‘sardar’:
A few ‘true that!’ responses:
I wonder why this stereotype exists. Maybe no one wants to break it. Maybe people are weak and insecure and always want someone to be looked lower in status to them. To them, the advice would be to Wake up and start living life without any discrimination and with high thinking and try living life to the fullest just like ‘Punjabis’. Now, leaving you all with a latest Santa-Banta joke in the market:
Santa Singh: What is H2O?
Banta Singh: H2O is the chemical formula of Water.
Santa Singh: Ok
Oh! Sorry to disappoint you guys again. Santa and Banta are not in joking mood today. Try again later.
P.S. I do realize that the Sikh community is not the only stereotyped community in our country. If Panjus are loud, Madrasis are dark, Jatts are uncivilized, Bongs are quarrelsome, Biharis are either hooligans or manual labourers or IIT/IAS aspirants, Banias are skimps, Marwaris have business-sense, all Parsis talk along the lines of ‘humko karna mangta hai’. North-Eastern Indians have an even worse end of the deal when they have to constantly defend their Indianness against persistent questions of which country they are from. Popular media representation of these communities doesn’t help matters either. Maybe that’s how we live as Indians (or as people, stereotyping after all is not only an Indian trait) – we make fun of other communities and judge them to be made fun of and judged by them in return. Jane Austen, after all, had a point when she claimed ‘For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?’