On the first of January, as most Indians woke up with an excruciating hangover from last night’s celebratory drinking, Munawar Faruqui was greeted with something different.
Faruqui, a standup comedian, was taken under judicial custody owing to an FIR filed against him stating his transgression – derogatory remarks against Hindu Gods.
Cut to a month later, the Supreme Court has declared that Faruqui is being granted interim bail, his bail plea being slated for hearing tomorrow.
Due to a lack of tangible evidence, the validity of the FIR is to be kept under review for a period as deemed necessary by the apex court.
Coupled upon it, four other comedians were also arrested alongside Faruqui, however, their hearing has been left for a successive date. It is alleged that Faruqui had initially cracked a few jokes on the Home Minister, which led to the prosecution filing an FIR.
What Led To His Arrest?
On the first of January itself, Munawar Faruqui was slated as a headliner in a stand-up event in Indore. The event was visited by the son of BJP MLA, Malini Gaud’s son, who was the one who filed the FIR against Faruqui and the four other comedians (Nalin Yadav, Prakhar Vyas, Priyam Vyas, Edwin Anthony and Sadakat Khan).
The comedians were booked under Sections 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) and 298 (uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings).
Adding insult to injury, the prosecution admitted, rather openly, that they did not have even a morsel of physical evidence against the culprit, and it was based on mere conjecture.
The Superintendent of Police at Indore, Vijay Khatri, went on record to say that it didn’t really matter if Faruqui did or did not make the jokes – the jokes that formed the basis of the arrests.
No Country For Funny Men?
It’s strange how this entire episode reminds me of the entire episode involving AIB in 2015. AIB Knockout was an aired event on AIB’s YouTube channel, wherein the top brass of the comedy group alongside big wigs of the film industry such as Rajeev Masand, Karan Johar and Raghu-Rajeev joined hands to roast the Gunday, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor.
Upon airing the roast on their YouTube channel, the public outrage was of unprecedented levels. Right-wing outfits, Bollywood celebrities and even the general public’s reactions knew no bounds as the outrage, as unprecedented as it was, became too widespread to control.
FIRs were filed against the members of the AIB comedy group, alongside Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt and a couple of other celebrities present there.
This incident always begged the question –
How far is too far?
If I am asked this question, my default answer to this will always be that there should be no limitation as such if the comedy is not in bad taste, and even if it is, artistic liberty goes a long way in helping an artist understand the limits of their art themselves.
Slander and libel should be legally prosecuted, however, one cannot prosecute someone on the basis of what one says to another consenting adult, no matter what the situation.
The entire incident is akin to the Munawar Faruqui case owing to the same question of how far is too far. Most stand-up comedians of our generation take cues from their Western counterparts, more often than not.
They watch and gape at the Louis CK’s of the world and wish to attempt the same in front of the crowd in their hometown as well. A comedian who goes about talking about anything and everything, uncensored and unfiltered. These comedians sought to do the same.
AIB tried to base Knockout off the many roasts that happened on American live television such as The Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber and The Comedy Central Roast of James Franco.
Much the same way, numerous comedians like Faruqui try to base their content on religious themes and cultural values pertaining to India.
What these comedians tend to forget is the fact that India is still stuck in a strange space between yesterday and today, a continuous loop between the past and the present.
Our funny bone thinks a hundred times before deciding to topple over and give out a giggle. And even after the giggle, we tend to ponder upon the effect of the art, or joke, for that matter, on our cultural and religious sensibilities.
Going over these events, the only thing I have realised is the fact that we, as Indians, are extremely soft human beings. The slightest of winds can blow us all away.
India is no place for funny men.
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