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New Delhi: A scheduled performance by comedian Munawar Faruqui at Gurgaon Comedy Festival on December 19 has been cancelled after the organisers “received several calls to drop him”, the Times of India reported. The head of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) IT cell in Haryana, according to the report, approached the police to stop him from taking the stage. In his complaint to the ACP (Sohna), BJP’s Arun Yadav accused Faruqui of insulting Hindu gods and goddesses.
The Entertainment Factory (TEF), organisers of the show, confirmed to TOI that Faruqui’s name had been dropped.
Sources told the newspaper that the organisers received calls that the show would be disrupted, following which they took the decision. “It was a joint decision taken by Munawar and us to drop him. We received several calls from yesterday (Sunday) to drop him. Our job is to entertain people and we don’t want any controversy. So, keeping in mind the public, the decision was taken,” Mubin Tisekar of TEF told TOI.
Faruqui’s performance was scheduled to take place at Airia mall in Gurugram, sector 68.
Last week, Faruqui’s show titled ‘Dongri to Nowhere’ was cancelled in Bengaluru after police wrote to the organisers, terming him as a “controversial figure” and citing “law and order situation”. Later, in an Instagram post, Faruqui wrote, ‘Nafrat jeet gai, Artist haar gaya (Hatred has won, the artist has lost). I’m done! Goodbye.”
On January 1, Faruqui was arrested from a café in Indore on a complaint made by BJP MLA Malini Singh Gaud’s son Eklavya Singh Gaud. He runs an outfit called Hindu Rakshak Sanghatan.
Gaud alleged that Faruqui had cracked jokes against Hindu gods and goddesses and even made fun of Union home minister Amit Shah during the rehearsals of his show. Police had booked Farooqui under Section 295 of the IPC for allegedly hurting religious sentiments though police admitted that they had no evidence of Faruqui cracking such jokes at the event. He was lodged at Indore jail along with four others.
“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, told Al Jazeera.
Faruqui’s bail plea was rejected twice by the Indore sessions court, followed by the MP high court. On February 7, 36 days after he was arrested, the Supreme Court finally granted him interim bail.
Following the cancellation of his shows in Mumbai, the financial capital, Faruqui told NDTV: “I get 50 threat calls daily, I had to change my SIM card thrice. When my number gets leaked, people call up and abuse me.” He said that everyone is targetted, adding “In my case, they use my religion. That scares me.”
Does India not like jokes?
Kunal Kamra, another stand-up comedian, who is also a vocal critic of the government, has come under fire for taking political swipes at the authorities. His shows in Bengaluru were also cancelled amid threats, according to news reports.
Another stand-up comedian Vir Das’s show in Washington on ‘I come from two Indias’ triggered a storm of protests on social media by right-wing supporters and Hindutva leaders. “We worship women by day and gang-rape them by night”; “I come from an India where journalism is supposedly dead, because men in fancy studios give each other hand**** and yet women on the road with laptops are still telling the truth” – the monologue addressed issues of gender, politics, COVID-19 and others.
“I come from an India where we laugh so loudly in the comfort of our own homes that you can hear us through the walls, and yet I come from an India where we break down the walls of a comedy club because you can hear laughter inside.”
“Authoritarian rule does not necessarily kill comedy, but it does circumscribe it,” The Economist points out in an opinion piece titled Why stand-up comedy is on the rise in authoritarian countries.
Jaideep Verma, director of I am Offended, told the BBC, “Ideology has become more important than having a few laughs. How can humour thrive in an environment when you are constantly looking over your shoulder?”