Listen to this article:
New Delhi: Two shows featuring stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui were cancelled after members of the Hindutva group Bajrang Dal travelled from Gujarat to Mumbai and threatened the venue owners.
Rightwing groups have trained their guns on Faruqui since the beginning of this year, when he was charged with hurting religious sentiments based on the complaint of the son of a BJP MLA and arrested even before the allegedly offensive show took place.
The BJP leader’s son had claimed that he overheard Faruqui allegedly passing “indecent remarks” about Hindu deities and Union home minister Amit Shah while rehearsing for an Indore show but could not submit proof of this. Nonetheless, Faruqui was incarcerated for a month, along with others, before the Supreme Court granted him bail.
Before that, the Madhya Pradesh high court had twice rejected his bail pleas, saying that “such people must not be spared”.
Faruqui was supposed to perform at two venues in Mumbai – a hall at Borivali (West) on October 29 and the Rangshardha Auditorium in Bandra on October 30 and 31.
Indian Express has reported that an online campaign, followed by live threats, led owners of both venues to call off the shows yesterday, October 27.
The news outlet quoted Purnima Shah, owner of the Bandra hall, as having said that three Bajrang Dal members arrived and threatened them on the afternoon of October 26, saying Faruqui’s show is “against Hindus.”
“They told us they will burn the place, so we decided to cancel the show. At that time I called the police, who escorted them out of my premises,” said Shah, who also said that as owner of the hall, she does not usually ask who the artist is and bookings are made directly by the producer.
Shah said telephone calls from Bajrang Dal members also contained threats. She had also reported them to police.
Meanwhile, in addition to warning Bajrang Dal members that action will be taken if they “create any issue,” Senior Inspector of Bandra police station Manohar Dhanavade told Express that police has also served a notice to the show’s organisers.
The notice, which was accessed by Express, said police have information that “the act may contain content that may hurt religious sentiments of Hindus or other religions.”
Organisers, requesting anonymity, told Express that they were under tremendous pressure and had to call off the show putting the safety of their audience in the forefront. “But it’s really sad that an artist is being targeted because of his religion and some joke he cracked two years ago,” an organiser said, without specifying which joke by Faruqui was in question.
Faruqui’s imprisonment had been widely decried as a miscarriage of justice and a flagrant trampling upon his basic rights and his freedom of expression, with outrage even reaching foreign shores.
“Comedy and satire are necessary to ensure a healthy democracy, as they facilitate the free communication of new ideas and critical thinking,” Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, Julie Trébault had said then.