Neville Shah has apologised for jokes made in a five-year-old video that resurfaced on Saturday, in which he made remarks criticising caste-based reservations. Shah has faced a lot of online flak for making ableist and casteist comments in the clip, which deals with the supposed incompetence of his doctor, who walks with a limp. “Ya toh yeh Dr. House hai aur mummy bach gayi (either he’s Dr. House and my mother is saved)… or quota admission,” Shah says in the video.
Shah went on to decry the existence of quotas in medicine, with the implication that doctors who benefit from reservations are not qualified enough to do their jobs. People pointed out that this is an argument often used by upper-caste critics of the reservation system in order to discredit the social gains it has enabled, as well as to continue to delegitimise and discriminate against Dalit and Bahujan professionals.
After facing a barrage of criticism, Shah apologised in a statement he released on Twitter last night. “It’s been more than 24 hours since a stand-up comedy clip of mine from 2016 has been brought to light,” he wrote. “I apologize [sic] for the trauma, the anger and duress that the joke has caused a lot of people. I am sorry.”
“It was taped a few months after the loss of my mother in 2016,” the statement continues. “The joke in question and a lot of the others are about me grieving and dealing with that loss. I was trying to convert my loss to words and in the course of that, if I have anyone or any community’s feelings, I am truly sorry. I have read, heard and acknowledge most of what people are saying about the joke and about me and the privilege I hold.”
Coming in a month where cricketer Yuvraj Singh and actor Munmun Dutta have also been called out for using casteist slurs, the incident has provoked important conversations about caste privilege and the problems with punching down in comedy. Comedians including Kunal Kamra and Niveditha Prakasam have spoken about the need for awareness of caste privilege and lack of diversity in the Indian comedy scene.