Members of the Hindutva group Bajrang Dal travelled from Gujarat to Mumbai and threatened venue owners and cancelled two shows featuring stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui.
Since the beginning of this year, rightwing groups have trained their guns on Faruqui, after he was charged with hurting religious sentiments based on the complaint filed by BJP MLA and was arrested even before the allegedly offensive show took place.
Theson of BJP leader had claimed that he overheard the comedian of allegedly passing “indecent remarks” about Hindu deities and Union home minister Amit Shah while rehearsing for a show in Indore but could not submit proof of this. Faruqui, however, was jailed for a month, including others, before the Supreme Court granted him bail.
The Madhya Pradesh high court earlier, had twice rejected Faruqui’s bail pleas, saying that “such people must not be spared”.
The comedian was expected to perform at two venues in Mumbai – a hall at Borivali on October 29 and the Rangshardha Auditorium in Bandra on October 30 and 31.
According to The Indian Express, an online campaign, followed by live threats, led both the venue owners to call off the shows on October 27.
“Three Bajrang Dal members arrived and threatened us on the afternoon of October 26, saying Faruqui’s show is against Hindus,” the news outlet quoted Purnima Shah, owner of the Bandra hall, as saying.
“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,” said Shah, adding that as owner of the hall, she does not usually ask who the artist is and bookings are made directly by the producer.
The phone calls from Bajrang Dal members also contained threats, Shah said and so she had also reported them to police.
Meanwhile, Senior Inspector of Bandra police station Manohar Dhanavade told Express that he
warned Bajrang Dal members that action will be taken if they “create any issue.” The police has also served a notice to the show’s organisers, the officer said.
Police have information that “the act may contain content that may hurt religious sentiments of Hindus or other religions,” said the notice, accessed by Express.
Organisers, on the condition of anonymity, told the news outlet that they were under tremendous pressure and had to call off the show putting the safety of their audience in the forefront. “But it’s really sad that an artist is being targeted because of his religion and some joke he cracked two years ago,” one of the organiser said, without specifying which joke by Munawar Faruqui was in question.
With outrage even reaching foreign shores, the detention of Faruqui had been widely condemned as a failure of justice and a flagrant trampling upon his basic rights and freedom of expression.
Julie Trébault, Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, had said, “Comedy and satire are necessary to ensure a healthy democracy, as they facilitate the free communication of new ideas and critical thinking.”