New Delhi, India – A Muslim stand-up comedian in India says “hate has won” and that he is “done” after at least a dozen of his shows were cancelled in the past two months following threats from right-wing Hindu groups.
“Hate has won, the artist has lost,” Munawar Faruqui posted on his Instagram profile after his show, scheduled on Sunday, was cancelled by the organisers in Bengaluru, the capital of southern Karnataka state.
“We called off 12 shows in last two months because of the threats to venue and audience,” wrote the 29-year-old, whom the police in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-governed state called a “controversial figure”.
On January 1 this year, Faruqui was heckled by right-wing Hindus and forced to stop his performance at a cafe in Indore in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, also ruled by the BJP.
The members of a little-known Hindu Rakshak Sangathan group in Indore alleged he had insulted Hindu gods during the rehearsals of his show.
The son of a prominent local politician belonging to the BJP claimed he overheard Faruqui “passing indecent remarks” about Hindu gods and the powerful federal Home Minister Amit Shah, but he could not submit any evidence for his allegations.
It is a direct attack not only on Faruqui's freedom of speech, but on his freedom to practise his profession.
VRINDA GROVER, SUPREME COURT LAWYER
Still, Faruqui along with four others – Nalin Yadav, Prakhar Vyas, Priyam Vyas and Edwin Anthony – was roughed up and handed over to the police.
Indore police initially claimed they had “enough evidence” on “objectionable comments” made against Hindu gods at the event. A senior police officer later told a news website that Faruqui had not made the jokes at the show, but was “going to”.
He ended up spending 37 days in jail for jokes he never told.
In February, India’s Supreme Court said the allegations against Faruqui were vague and granted him interim bail after three lower courts refused to do so.
Since then, right-wing Hindu groups have trained their guns on Faruqui.
Over the past few months, the comedian’s shows have been cancelled in a number of Indian cities, including Mumbai, India’s entertainment hub and capital of Maharashtra, a state governed by a political coalition opposed to the BJP.
In an interview to India’s NDTV network earlier this month, Faruqui said he gets “50 threat calls daily” and that he was forced to change his phone number thrice.
“When my number gets leaked, people call and abuse me,” he told the New Delhi-based channel. “In my case, they use my religion. That scares me.”
Faruqui was born in the western state of Gujarat, which saw one of the worst religious violence against Muslims in 2002 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was its chief minister.
On Sunday afternoon, he was supposed to perform at Good Shepherd Auditorium in Bengaluru. But the show was cancelled, with the police saying “Munawar Faruqui is a controversial figure” who has allegedly made “controversial statements”.
“Many states have banned his comedy shows,” the police said in a letter to the organisers.
‘Because he is a Muslim’
Stand-up comedy has become hugely popular in recent years in India, where intentionally hurting religious sentiments is a criminal offence.
However, since Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014, comics critical of the government have faced police action and legal cases.
Earlier this month, Vir Das, 42, one of India’s top satirical performers and known for his sharp takes on the rise of Hindu nationalist forces in the country, was accused of “insulting the country” after he performed a “two Indias” monologue in the United States.
Supreme Court lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover said the cancellation of Faruqui’s shows is “targeted economic and social boycott, aimed at crippling [him] and silencing not just dissent but also free speech”.
“It is a direct attack not only on his freedom of speech, but on his freedom to practise his profession and eventually his right to life with dignity… It is an attack on a range of fundamental constitutionally guaranteed rights as well as basic human rights,” she told Al Jazeera.
With every passing year, I feel laughter is costing comedians more and more.
KUNAL KAMRA, STAND-UP COMIC
Grover said the police, instead of taking “prompt and stern” action against those who issued threats to Faruqui, advised the organisers to “kneel down before the mob”.
“We should not at all blur the fact that relentless and targeted attack on Munawar Faruqui is on two counts. One because he is a Muslim. Two, he is a Muslim who is speaking against the atrocities committed by the state and by majoritarian groups against Muslims,” said Grover.
“He is asking inconvenient, uncomfortable questions and therefore he is being targeted. If the police and state authorities allow the writ of the mob to run, then this cannot be a country run by the rule of law.”
‘I’m done, Goodbye’
“With every passing year, I feel laughter is costing comedians more and more,” Mumbai-based stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra said.
“It’s costing them their spontaneity and it’s costing them their impulse.”
Faruqui’s fans have expressed solidarity, with many urging him not to stop performing.
“Ashamed of this India, a country that will bully, hound and push an artist to the brink,” tweeted famous south Indian singer and activist Thodur Madabusi Krishna, who invited Faruqui to perform in Chennai, capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
“[We] will take care of you. My home is open for you,” Krishna said.
However, announcing his decision to give up on stand-up comedy on Instagram, Faruqui wrote: “Putting me in jail for the joke I never did to cancelling my shows, which has nothing problematic in it. This is unfair.”
“My name is Munawar Faruqui and that’s been my time. You guys were [a] wonderful audience.”
“I’m done, Goodbye! INJUSTICE,” he wrote on Twitter.