Munawar Faruqui: Indian comic’s show cancelled amid growing cry of intolerance and Islamophobia

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Indian comedian Munawar Faruqui, who had earlier spent more than a month in jail for a joke he didn’t crack, said he is not being allowed to work because of relentless threats and abuses from Hindu right-wing vigilante groups.

“I get 50 threat calls daily, I had to change my SIM card thrice,” Mr Faruqui told news channel NDTV in an interview on Sunday. “When my number gets leaked, people call up and abuse me.”

Mr Faruqui, 30, was arrested earlier this year after he wrapped up a stand-up show because a complaint was filed against him by the son of a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

He was accused of cracking offensive jokes about Hindu deities and “insulting” Hindu religious sentiments. But the police said they were not able to find any video evidence from the gig to prove the comedian actually made those jokes on stage.

He was granted bail by India’s Supreme Court after spending 35 days in jail. In his interview with NDTV, the comedian said that if the country’s youth can decide who to vote for, “then they can definitely decide what to watch”.

Mr Faruqui claimed he had to face three consecutive cancellations for shows after he received threats from the far-right Hindu group Bajrang Dal, which in the English language means the brigade of Hanuman, a prominent Hindu deity.

“What is happening is unfortunate. Lots of wrongs are happening in this country,” Mr Faruqui said, raising fears about the growing instances of communal violence in India.

“The bigger issue is that for these three shows, a total of 1,500 people bought tickets a month ago. I feel bad for them. This is a sad reality with which many people in this country are living,” he added.

Since his release from jail, the comedian has performed in 50 shows across the country. He said he received standing ovations in 90 per cent of his shows.

“The audience doesn’t care who belongs to which religion or caste. People loved those shows,” he said.

Mr Faruqui said his shows did not have any reference to any religion and his intentions have never been to insult any religion either.

He said some in the country have been trying to rile up public sentiment against him by highlighting 10-second-long clips from two-hour-long shows out of context to gain political mileage.

“I used to think sometimes that maybe I am wrong, but after what has happened, I have understood that some people are trying to gain political advantage out of this,” he said.

Two of his shows in India’s financial capital Mumbai were cancelled after venue owners were threatened and told their venues would be burned down if they hosted Mr Faruqui, claimed the comedian.

He said he has tried to assure venue owners that his content was not problematic.

“But if someone threatens that he will burn the place down, vandalise it, he will think. This is wrong, this is a free country,” he said. “Hate won, so the shows got cancelled. But till when?”

Purnima Shah, owner of Rangsharda auditorium in Mumbai where one of the shows was scheduled to be held, said her company was threatened by the Bajrang Dal’s members and they had to call the police, according to the Indian Express.

Ms Shah said she was told that Mr Faruqui’s show was “against Hindus”. She said she offered explanations to the Bajrang Dal, saying the producers book their halls and do not ask who performing artists are.

“I told them that the organiser has censor certificate, but still the Bajrang Dal members were threatening us. 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,” she told the newspaper.

Another organiser, requesting anonymity, said that they were “under tremendous pressure” as the police had served them a notice and threatened to charge them “if any law and order problem occurs due to the act”.

The Independent has reached out to the Bajrang Dal, which has not issued any statement yet regarding the allegations.

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