Netflix’s Jamtara Sparks Row Over Use of Casteist Slur

Experts believe they shouldn’t be used.

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Netflix’s Jamtara Sparks Row Over Use of Casteist Slur

Photo Credit: Netflix

Amit Sial in Jamtara: Sabka Number Ayega

Highlights
  • Jamtara released January 10 on Netflix worldwide
  • Casteist slur uttered by a character in fifth episode
  • Its use is punishable in real-life under Indian law

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.

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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 it had nothing to say. In the past, Netflix has said that it always respects its artists' freedom. Moreover, a disclaimer appended to the start of every Jamtara episode clarifies the show as 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.

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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.”

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Akhil Arora Akhil Arora covers entertainment for Gadgets 360, interviewing stars such as Christian Bale and Anurag Kashyap, covering series premieres, product and service launches across the globe, and looking at American blockbusters and Indian dramas from a global socio-political and feminist perspective. As a Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic, Akhil has reviewed over 150 movies and TV shows in over half a decade at Gadgets 360. When he is not completely caught up with new film and TV releases, Akhil ...More
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