To the long and growing list of people that the Bharatiya Janata Party appears to be intolerant or perhaps scared of, which includes students, activists, journalists, academics and human rights defenders, a new category can be added – comedians.
For what else can explain the hounding of the young come-dian Munawwar Faruqui, who shows are cancelled wherever he goes?
The organisers were compelled to cancel a show in Bangalore on Sunday following a letter they re-ceived from the city police the previous day, ‘sug-gesting’ that the show could create a law and order situation.
This advice came after the Hindu Jagran Samiti and the Jai Shri Ram Sena — both right-wing Hindutva organisations — approached the police to cancel the show. This became the 12th time in succession that Faruqui couldn’t perform on stage because of similar reasons.
In normal circumstances, the police, sworn to uphold the Constitution, should have ignored this appeal and strengthened security around the audito-rium.
But these are hardly normal times and so the police told Faruqui to cancel his performance. It is a wonder the cops did not arrest the comedian. The irony is that he had performed the same set in Ban-galore on three occasions in the past year.
Karnataka is ruled by a BJP government – as is Madhya Pradesh, where Faruqui was jailed for a month for a joke he didn’t crack but allegedly in-tended to, and then, after the Supreme Court granted him interim bail, was still not released as there was a warrant against him in Prayagraj, for ‘hurting religious sentiments’. Uttar Pradesh too has a BJP government.
What is about comedians, and Faruqui in par-ticular, that the Hindutva warriors don’t like? After all, the vidushak is an inalienable part of the grand Indian tradition.
Folk performances, such as tamasha in Maharashtra, always have a funnyman and even Ramleela plays are full of ribald jokes cracked by the village comedian.
Not just argumen-tative, we Indians are also blessed with a robust sense of humour and the ability to laugh at power structures. In a country with hardships, a sense of humour is necessarily to keep one’s sanity. It is a safety valve or sorts.
So why is the Sangh system, self-proclaimed upholders of ‘Hindu civilisation’, so anti-jokes and -joke tellers? An important part of attacking Faruqui is of course that he is a Muslim and the Hindutva right wing is determined to marginalise Muslims from the national mainstream. That is not overtly stated but obvious to anyone who has seen bigotry grow and bloom during these past seven years.
BJP administrations in various states have benignantly looked on and even backed the efforts of rabid or-ganisations and freelancers. The police happily co-operates.
But comedians are feared because they ridicule, mock, taunt and, through that, point to the sheer absurdity of Hindutva. One of Faruqui’s jokes was about the people of Junagarh being so lazy they wouldn’t even participate in a riot; this at a time when the rest of Gujarat burned in 2002 and hun-dreds of people, mainly Muslims, were killed.
Such lacerating jokes cannot but show the mirror of big-otry to communal elements and this they cannot face.
The Hindutva ecosystem does not like argu-ments or questions – consider the way in which Parliament debates on crucial issues are simply not held or how the independent media is shut out. The prime minister has not held a single press confer-ence in seven years and was equally wary of jour-nalists in Gujarat.
BJP-friendly media, such as the noisy television channels and many print publica-tions, is encouraged, the rest are debarred.