One of India’s top Muslim comedians has quit after serving a jail term for “indecent” jokes about Hindu gods and being inundated with threats from nationalists.
Munawar Faruqui’s announcement comes amid a growing crackdown by Hindu hardliners on entertainment seen as insufficiently patriotic.
“I haven’t done anything. I didn’t kill anyone, I didn’t hurt anyone physically. I just joked about some political parties and maybe that is the reason they don’t like me,” Mr Faruqui, 29, told the Telegraph.
“We are stand up comedians. We are not a threat to you, we are just making jokes about you.”
Mr Faruqui posted on Instagram “I’m done…hate won”, announcing he was quitting the profession after his post-jail comeback tour was repeatedly targeted by right-wing Hindu groups who threatened him and the organisers of his gigs.
The comedian said he gets up to 50 threats daily and has been forced to change his phone number three times since his release from jail.
Over the last two months, Mr Faruqui has been forced to cancel 12 gigs over audience safety fears.
“There is no use in me doing comedy. What I want to do doesn’t matter, they have already decided they won’t let me perform,” said Mr Faruqui, who rose from obscurity by doing stand up in his native Gujarat and achieving pan-India fame.
“What will I do? Organise a show every day or every weekend and it will get cancelled.”
Mr Faruqui’s sets contained social and political satire as well as jokes at the expense of Islam. Activists say he was targeted as part of a broader slide into authoritarianism and Hindu nationalism in India under the BJP.
The comedian was jailed for a month in January after the son of a prominent leader of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed he had made offensive remarks about the religion ahead of a gig in the city of Indore.
Mr Faruqui had been previously accused of insulting the Hindu gods by cracking jokes about Lord Rama and Sita’s relationship. He also allegedly made insulting remarks about an attack on a train in 2002 that resulted in the deaths of 59 Hindu pilgrims.
But police admitted that they had no evidence that Mr Faruqui had insulted Hinduism during his set in Indore and he was eventually released after a nationwide outcry.
Mohan Gowda belongs to the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, a right-wing Hindu organisation, who had successfully lobbied police to cancel Mr Faruqui’s gig in the city of Bengaluru on November 28.
Mr Gowda told the Telegraph that while his organisation did not oppose art and culture, it would vehemently challenge those that insulted Hinduism, even in stand-up comedy.
“In India, we don’t oppose freedom of expression but you don’t have the right to hurt religious sentiment,” said Mr Gowda.
“We are demanding the central government put a permanent ban on Munawar Faruqui until he stops this nonsense.”
Another high-profile comic, Vir Das, is facing a legal complaint after a BJP leader from Delhi alleged he made “derogatory” statements against India during a recent gig in the United States.
Mr Das had said that he came from “two Indias” – one where women are worshipped during the day but raped at night. In 2018, Thomson Reuters named India as the most dangerous nation in the world to be a woman.
Earlier this year, Amazon Prime also issued a rare apology and removed a scene from its new mini-series Tandav after two BJP parliamentarians accused the streaming giant of “deliberately mocking Hindu gods”.
The offensive scene depicted the actor playing Lord Shiva complaining of having a smaller social media following than other deities.
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