‘Comedy Isn’t a Crime’: Over 100 Artists Rally for Faruqui, Others

“We call for the dropping or dismissal of these trumped-up charges for all six individuals,” the letter reads.

Published
India
5 min read
 Munawar Faruqui was granted ad interim bail by the Supreme Court on 5 February.
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In an open letter, over 100 artists across India and the world, including Pooja Bhatt, Kalki Koechlin, Kunal Kamra and Arundhati Roy, have demanded for dropping of all charges against comedian Munawar Faruqui and five others, who were arrested on 1 and 2 January from MP’s Indore, on grounds of hurting religious sentiments.

The letter reads, “We call for an end to this persecution of Munawar Faruqui, his associates, and all other performers, who must have the right in any real democracy to use their art to comment on their times.”

The letter reads:

As an international community of stand-up comics, artists, political satirists, writers, musicians, actors, entertainers, and concerned individuals, we are alarmed at what is happening in India, a country where laughter and irreverence has been part of traditions across religions and communities, and humour has been deployed by artists through centuries. So, when Munawar Faruqui, a 30-year-old stand-up comic was arrested and imprisoned in India even before he cracked a joke, we were astounded and outraged. Five others were also arrested—Edwin Anthony, Prakhar Vyas, Priyam Vyas, Nalin Yadav and Sadakat Khan.

Munawar’s bail applications were rejected by the Magistrate, Sessions, and High Court of Madhya Pradesh, and he had to go all the way to the Supreme Court of India just for interim bail, which was his legal right. He has now been released on bail, but the charges against him in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh remain. We call for the dropping or dismissal of these trumped-up charges for all six individuals.

Munawar and those with him were arrested in Indore, in Madhya Pradesh on January 1, 2021. A Hindu supremacist vigilante group, led by the son of a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party legislator, disrupted the comedy show alleging that Hindu sentiments were hurt by indecent/vulgar remarks against Hindu deities. In a video that went viral, we see Munawar trying to calm the disrupter but the police, instead of protecting Faruqui, arrested him. The Superintendent of Police reportedly said Munawar was going to insult Hindu gods, and even praised the vigilantes!

Munawar faces criminal charges of
uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings’, among other sections of India’s penal code, for jokes he never cracked, in a performance that did not take place. These absurd but serious charges carry jail time. The state of Uttar Pradesh has also sought Munawar’s arrest on equally absurd charges. The institutions of a changing India appear to be colluding to give out a message—humour threatens the powerful. And humour by a Muslim man in India will not be tolerated by Hindu supremacists.

We are well aware that Munawar’s performance pieces include contemporary politics and society. Munawar took risks that all artists take. But the stakes are higher for him. He comes from a humble background. His family lost their home during the large-scale 2002 violence in Gujarat, and moved to Mumbai where Munawar sold utensils and did other odd jobs during the day and studied at night. He started stand-up comedy just two years ago, quickly garnering some success.

As artists and concerned individuals, we are alarmed that in a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy, a stand-up artist was imprisoned for over a month, and faces serious criminal charges, for no crime. We call for an end to this persecution of Munawar Faruqui, his associates, and all other performers, who must have the right in any real democracy to use their art to comment on their times.

Signatories:

PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection adds: The arrest and detention of Munawar is indicative of the poor protection currently being afforded to the freedoms of speech and expression in India. Every citizen in India has the constitutional right to free speech and expression, albeit with reasonable restrictions. However, through instances like this, it is obvious that most arrests and forms of censorship carried out against artists are founded on arbitrary grounds and are greatly damaging to artistic and creative freedoms in the country.

1. Rajmohan Gandhi, Historian, India
2. Arundhati Roy, Writer, India
3. Mallika Sarabhai, Artist & Dancer, India
4. Swara Bhaskar, Actor, India
5. Pooja Bhatt, Filmmaker, India
6. Shonali Bose, Filmmaker, India
7. Kalki Koechlin, Actor, India
8. Kunal Kamra, Stand-up Comic, India
9. Sanjay Rajoura, Stand-up Comic, India
10. John Greyson, Film Director, Canada
11. Anand Patwardhan, Filmmaker, India
12. Darab Farooqui, Writer, India
13. Anuvab Pal, Stand-up Comic, India
14. Amitava Kumar, Author, USA
15. Tanya Selvaratnam, Author, USA
16. Nikesh Shukla, Writer, UK
17. Guy Maddin, Filmmaker, Canada
18. Atom Egoyan, Stage and Film Director, Canada
19. Aradhana Seth, Filmmaker, India
20. Hamja Ahsan, Artist and Writer, UK
21. Sandeep Pandey, Peace Activist & Magsaysay awardee, India
22. Aatish Taseer, Journalist, USA
23. Samir Bhamra, Director-Producer, UK
24. Pratibha Parmar, Filmmaker, USA
25. Madani Younis, Theatre Director-Producer, UK
26. Sudarshan Shetty, Visual Artist, India
27. Sanjay Kak, Filmmaker, India
28. Elahe Hiptoola, Producer, India
29. Leena Yadav, Filmmaker, India
30. Kimsar, Musical Artist, France
31. Rohena Gera, Filmmaker, India
32. Javaad Alipoor, Performer and Theatre Director, UK
33. Kunaal Roy Kapoor, Actor, India
34. Poorna Jagannathan, Actor, USA
35. Shruti Rya Ganguly, Filmmaker, USA
36. Sheetal Sheth, Actor, USA
37. Avijit Sarkar, Musician, Writer, and Cartoonist, Australia
38. Sarika Singh, Actor, India
39. Jyotsna Sharma, Theatre professional, Australia
40. Saba Zaidi, Adakar Theatre and Cultural Group, Australia
41. Tom Gronau, Actor, Germany
42. Sarnath Banerjee, Graphic Novelist, India
43. Tariq Mehmood, Writer & filmmaker, UK
44. Chitra Ganesh, Visual Artist, USA
45. Aseem Chhabra, Director of Photography/Cinematographer, India
46. Katriina Haikala, Artist, Finland
47. Prashasti Singh, Stand-up Comic, India
48. Sourav Ghosh, Stand-up Comic, India
49. Balraj Singh Ghai, Stand-up Comic, India
50. Urooj Dingankar, Stand-up Comic, India
51. Aravind Subramanian, Stand-up Comic, India
52. Anirban Dasgupta, Stand-up Comic, India
53. Pavitra Shetty , Writer and Stand-up Comic, India
54. Tarang Hardikar, Stand-up Comic, India
55. Rueben Kaduskar, Stand-up Comic, India
56. Kaneez Surka, Improv and Stand-up Artist, India/South Africa
57. Anindita Ghose, Writer, India
58. Raja Sen, Film Critic, India
59. Arjun Singh Sethi, Writer & Professor, USA
60. Martin Macwan, Dalit Activist, India
61. Arundhati Dhuru, Activist, India
62. Pawan Yadav, Khudaai Khidmatgaar, India
63. Mallika Taneja, Theatre Artist, India
64. Maresa von Stockert, Choreographer and Visual Artist, UK
65. Pragya Tiwari, Journalist, India
66. Krupa Ge, Author, India
67. Avijit Dutt, Actor, India
68. Shiva Subbaraman, Director, LGBTQ Center, Georgetown University, USA
69. Dr. Ritumbra Manuvie, Foundation The London Story , Netherlands
70. Ani Zonneveld, Muslims for Progressive Values, USA
71. Amerjit Deu, Actor, UK
72. Lawrence R Joffe, Writer and Editor, UK
73. Yasmin Whittaker-Khan, Writer and Actor, UK
74. Apoorva Gundeti, Actor and Writer, USA
75. Rabbi Barat Ellman, CAMMEERR, USA
76. Abira Nath, Stand-up Comic, India
77. Tarun Bhartiya, Poet and Filmmaker, India
78. Nadia Noetzel, Musician , Germany
79. Ewan Weeks, Musician, UK
80. Sofia Karim, Architect, Artist and Writer, UK
81. Srijan Shukla, Advertising Professional, India
82. Pradyot Mokashi, Writer, India
83. Anirudh More, Writer, India
84. Maheen Mirza, Filmmaker, India
85. Peter Stephan Jungk, Writer, France
86. Chandraguptha Thenuwara, Artist & Professor, Sri Lanka
87. Rolf Killius, Curator and Consultant, UK
88. Farzana Doctor, Writer, Canada
89. Ruhi Hamid, Documentary Filmmaker, UK
90. Venuri Perera, Performance Artist, Sri Lanka
91. Manjot Kaur, Artist, India
92. Judy Rebick, Writer, Canada
93. Avani Rai, Photographer, India
94. Michelle Polak, Actor, Canada
95. Sonia Corrêa, Co-chair - Sexuality Policy Watch, Brazil
96. Chitra Ganesh, Visual Artist, USA
97. Kamala Visveswaran, Writer, USA
98. Yvonne Rainer, Choreographer, USA
99. Rakhi Sehgal, Trade Unionist and Researcher, India
100. Hasina Khan, Bebaak Collective, India
101. Sandhya Gokhale, Forum Against Oppression of Women, India
102. Rinchin, ektaracollective, India
103. Shalini Gera, Advocate, India
104. Hozefa Ujjaini, Buniyaad, India
105. Muniza Khan, Researcher, Gandhian Institute of Studies, India
106. Madhurima Majumder, Senior Researcher, Centre for Equity Studies, India
107. Sheba Tejani, University of Birmingham , UK
108. Malavika Kasturi, Associate Professor, University of Toronto, Canada
109. Prasanna Vithannage, Filmmaker, Sri Lanka
110. Deepak Joshi, Activist, Australia

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