Munawar Faruqui, a standup comic was to perform for a charity in Bangalore. The tickets were sold out. Then the organizers were informed that ‘show cannot go on’ and it had to be canceled. What was cited as the reason was that there may be law and order problem and that Faruqui is a controversial person. This cancellation was in the series of many more cancellations, which he had to do. He was also arrested a while ago for a month on the anticipation that his program will have content which will be hurting the sentiments of majority community. Even in recent cancellation the same argument, hurting sentiments of Hindus was proffered by the right wing organizations. At the end of it Faruqui decided to quit from his art of making people laugh. In his message he painfully, recounted ““Nafrat jeet gayi, artist haar gaya (hate has won, artist has lost). I’m done, goodbye. Injustice.”
Just a while ago another comic Vir Das performed in Kennedy Center In US to the packed house and galleries on deeply touching ‘Two India’s’. The contrast he showed was very incisive, “I come from India where we worship women during day and gang rape them at night, I come from India where we take pride in being vegetarians and run over farmers growing vegetables”. He is being trolled by similar elements, which have stopped the shows of Faruqui.
The typical response to Vir Das, which is fairly representative of what goes in the minds of those upholding sectarian nationalism, “I see a terrorist in this man called #Virdas He is one of those members of a sleeper cell who has waged a war against our country on a foreign land. Should be immediately arrested under #UAPA and tried under terror laws. @AmitShah @HMOIndia @MumbaiPolice @CPMumbaiPolice (sic).”
Being the critic of the present ruling dispensation and present dominating politics is a tough job, as Faruqui must have realized during his jail term and with cancellation of so many of his programs in a series. Kunal Kamra another comic had also to face the wrath of the Attorney General who permitted for his prosecution for contempt of Court, when Kamra had tweeted, critiquing the SC for granting bail to anchor Arnab Goswami. Attorney Genral Venugopal stated “Today people boldly and brazenly condemn the Supreme Court and its judges in what they believe are freedom of speech.”
Freedom of speech-expression has been the integral part of the struggle for India’s Independence and different articles of Indian Constitution. It was this spirit of democracy and respect for individual freedom that the first Prime Minster of India not only appreciated and praised Shankar, the great cartoonist but also told him ‘not to spare him’. Despite Shankar’s respect for Nehru he drew scathing cartoons on Nehru.
Till the decade of 1990s the criticism of the leaders, rulers was passé and cartoonists-comics had not much of a problem. With the rise of sectarian communal politics, the intolerance started increasing and mutual respect for differing opinions went for a toss. M.F. Husain, whom some call as India’s Picasso, who has drawn 150 panels on Ramayana, started being hounded with the rise of this narrow tendency. The paintings and nudes which he drew in 1970s came to be attacked in 2010s. For an artist nude stands for purity, nude can also be vulgar and condemnable, depending on situation. Husain was deeply rooted in Indian ethos and drew extensively on Indian Gods and Goddesses. He started being hounded by the likes of those who are currently against comics like Faruqui and Vir Das, many cases were put against him and he decided to pack of to Qatar to continue to engage with his work.
Earlier on we did see the ban on Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’. There were also attacks on Tasleema Nasreen and freedom of expression has come under threat times and over again but last three decades in particular this phenomenon of hurt sentiments has reached the peak. This was witnessed in the murders of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, whose ‘Andh Shraddha Nirmulan Samiti’ was exposing the practices of blind faith in the village. Com Govind Pansare was a promoting communal harmony through teaching that Shivaji was not anti Muslim but was for welfare of his subjects. He was also pointing out that Hemant Kakare might have been killed in 26/11 attack, which was primarily a terrorist attack, but some other factor might have been involved. Dr. M.M.Kalburgi was against Brahmanical values and promoted the teachings of Basvanna. Gauri Lankesh, a fearless journalist was totally against politics in the name of religion. All these rationalists and critics of blind faith and communalism had to face the wrath of intolerant groups and paid with their life.
Many a critics of the Government are straightaway labeled as anti-National and demonized or punished. All through we see that from banning of Salman Rushdie to present the intolerance galore and there is a lot of component of being anti Muslim is involved in case of Munawar Faruqui. His humor was not primarily on political themes. Reference to some politics did creep in but that was it. Hindu Gods and Goddess was not the subject of his technique to make people laugh.
Faruqui saying good bye to his craft is a sad trajectory of the rising intolerance in the society. It also shows the orientation of the state to let intolerance prevail and to meekly submit to the threats and demands of sectarian nationalists. The democratic indices are falling with this type of attitude. It has slipped two places to come down to 53 in December 2020 on Democracy Index ranking according to Economic Intelligence Unit.
There is a need to arrest this decline on the scale of democratic freedoms. One may agree or not with the likes of Vir Das or Munawar Faruqui they have a full right to practice their art without any hindrance from the aggression and intolerance of the people with sectarian mind sets, and state and society must protect their right to expression.