South African comedian and US TV show host Trevor Noah has come under fire for joking about the recent tensions between India and Pakistan, with social media users criticising his comments as “racist”, “insensitive” and “stereotypical”.
During an episode of The Daily Show, a satirical news programme, on Wednesday night, host Noah said that if the nuclear-armed neighbours went to war, “it would be the most entertaining of all time”.
“It would also be the longest war of all time – another dance number!” he added while putting on an Indian accent and suggesting that a potential war scene would play out like a Bollywood musical.
The playful satire drew outrage on Twitter, forcing the 35-year-old comic to apologise.
“As a comedian, I use comedy to process pain and discomfort in my world, but I am sorry that this hurt you and others, that’s not what I was trying to do,” Noah wrote on Twitter.
Actually if you watch my stand up you'll see that I did make jokes after my mother was shot in the head. As a comedian I use comedy to process pain and discomfort in my world but I am sorry that this hurt you and others, that's not what I was trying to do. https://t.co/OuVnkHyIfG
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) March 2, 2019
“It’s amazing to me that my joke about the conflict in India and Pakistan trended more than the story of the actual conflict itself,” he added.
“Sometimes it seems like people are more offended by the jokes comedians make about an issue than the issue itself.”
Last week, India and Pakistan carried out air raids inside each other’s countries for the first time since the 1971 war, raising fears of a major military escalation between the two nuclear powers.
Tensions have been running high since a suicide attack killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary troops in Indian-administered Kashmir’s town of Pulwama, triggering the current standoff.
On Saturday, cross-border firing killed at least seven people, including five civilians and two soldiers, on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the Himalayan territory of Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Many Twitter users condemned Noah for poking fun during a tense time in the disputed region.
“War is not funny or entertaining, Hindi is not gibberish,” Indian actress and activist Swara Bhasker said. “Your stereotype of Indo-Pak is ignorant and racist … Human lives were lost and are at stake. SO disappointing.”
@Trevornoah 1. War isn’t funny or entertaining. 2. Hindi is not gibberish. Ur stereotype of indo- pak is ignorant & racist. 3. Ur set smacks of essentialism & a patronising generalisation & is v #FirstWorld 4. Human lives were lost & at stake. SO disappointing! @ComedyCentral pic.twitter.com/c46TqB9btd
— Swara Bhasker (@ReallySwara) March 1, 2019
Usually I like @Trevornoah but his remarks on the India-Pakistan situation really irked me. You cannot compare an ongoing enmity originating back to the British empire to a petty squabble between two rappers. I'm Indian, my family are in the Air Force and frankly I'm worried.
— 🌚Birthday Bih🌚 (@ThePsychoNyx) February 28, 2019
“This is outrageous! War is not a joke,” wrote Andy Kumar, a UK-based Indian TV presenter. “The Indian mumbles are no less racist. You should be ashamed of yourself!”
Others alluded to the “painful history of colonialism that has led to this conflict” and the “millions of lives lost since 1947″.
So #TrevorNoah thinks an India-Pakistan war would be funny. Yeah yeah it's humour or dark humour or just blatant ignorance of the millions of lives that have been lost in the Indo-Pak conflict since 1947.
Not cool at all @Trevornoah not cool.
— Rushali (@godhoonbey) March 1, 2019
.@Trevornoah I am a big fan but disappointed. My grandfather spent four years in jail as part of Gandhi’s movement and lived through partition. As someone born in South Africa, you know the painful history of colonialism that led to this conflict. https://t.co/MPlEOOMv75
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) March 1, 2019
However, some also jumped to the comedian’s defence, calling his Bollywood reference “funny”.
— Sarah Haider 🚀 (@SarahTheHaider) March 3, 2019
Ever heard of satire? Honestly, he has captured your country's bungled operations perfectly. Your stupid war reads more like a cheap Bollywood script, than a military operation. For the record, this IS funny, India putting the world at risk of nuclear war isn't!#SayNoToWar
— Akbar Allana (@akbarallana) March 1, 2019
“So, a ridiculous war can’t be mocked?” said South African journalist Azad Essa. “If @Trevornoah is being trampled because of a joke, imagine how Kashmiris are trampled for speaking their truths.”
Pakistan and India have fought three major wars since gaining independence from the British rule in 1947.
Two of them have been over Muslim-majority Kashmir, which India and Pakistan rule in part but claim in full as their own.