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The Indian stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui has announced that he is quitting the stage after repeatedly having his shows cancelled due to threats of violence and self-immolation from right-wing Hindu groups.
On Sunday (28 November) the comedian, who is Muslim, said that at least 12 scheduled shows have been axed over the last two months, including a recent show in Bengaluru, the capital of the southern Indian state Karnataka.
In a letter to the event organisers, the Bengaluru police asked for the show to be cancelled citing a possible law and order situation, according to The Times of India.
Calling Mr Faruqui a “controversial figure”, the police said “many states have banned his comedy shows” and that they had “credible information that several organisations are opposing this stand-up comedy show”.
Responding to the circumstances under which his shows have been cancelled, Mr Faruqui, 29, announced his decision to stop performing altogether in an Instagram post captioned: “Hate won, the artist has lost. I’m done! Goodbye.”
His statement read: “I think this is the end. My name is Munawar Faruqui, and that’s been my time. You guys were [a] wonderful audience.”
Earlier this month, the comedian was forced to cancel two sold-out shows in Goa after “over 500 people threatened to set themselves on fire” if they took place, according to event organisers LVC Comedy Club.
The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, a right-wing organisation, reportedly pressured LVC to cancel Mr Faruqui’s shows because the comedian allegedly made “vulgar jokes about Hindu gods”, the Hindustan Times reported.
A spokesperson for the Samiti said: “He has targeted them [Hindu gods]. He was behind bars for 37 days in Madhya Pradesh for insulting the Hindu religion.”
Mr Faruqui was arrested on 1 January this year for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by making indecent remarks against Hindu deities at a show in Madhya Pradesh state. The young comedian spent 37 days in jail before India’s Supreme Court granted him interim bail in February.
Witnesses reported that Mr Faruqui was arrested before his show even began, and at his bail hearings police admitted that they have no evidence that the young comic from Gujarat had performed any material that was offensive to the complainant’s religious beliefs.
The complainant also confessed to attending Mr Faruqui’s show with the intent to disrupt it, citing an old “offensive” video released by the comedian in April 2020.
After he was released from jail, Mr Faruqui uploaded a video ironically titled “Munawar Faruqui leaving comedy” to let his fans know he remained committed to his craft.
In the 10-minute video, he had said: “There is a typo in the title... Munawar Faruqui is not leaving comedy... Munawar Faruqui is living comedy. I can’t quit... it [comedy] keeps me alive.”
“Those who hate.. we will win them too. Every artist doesn’t have to face this challenge. I have to. There may be thousands of reasons to leave but there is one reason to stay.”
Prior to the Goa and Bengaluru shows, the comedian was pressured to cancel shows in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur city on 14 November after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal — two other grassroots right-wing organisations — threatened to stop these shows “in our own way” if the local administration did not.
Two more performances then met the same fate in Mumbai, India’s entertainment capital, last month after members of the Bajrang Dal travelled from Gujarat to Mumbai and intimidated the venue owners.
Following his announcement, several Indian comedians expressed solidarity with Mr Faruqui.
A vocal critic of the Narendra Modi-led government, fellow comic Kunal Kamra said “laughter is costing comedians more and more” with each passing year.
In a statement shared on social media, Indian stand-up comic and screenwriter Varun Grover said: “I am sad today that Munawar feels like quitting an art form that he loves and is brilliant at – but am sadder that we have let our minds be manipulated enough to stay indifferent in the face of such developments.”
A spokesperson for the opposition Trinamool Congress party, Saket Gokhale, tweeted: “This tactic by the BJP-RSS to deprive someone of their livelihood needs to be nipped in the bud.”
Olympic boxer Vijender Singh, journalist Anna Vetticad, actor Swara Bhasker, and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were among the other prominent figures who came out in support of Mr Faruqui.
— Anna MM Vetticad (@annavetticad) November 28, 2021
A project of hate & bigotry twill always hate an articulate, rational, educated, charming, talented & funny ‘Other’ who connects beyond identity with a heterogeneous public.. make no mistake Munawwar, Umar Khalid & other such articulate Muslims are a huge threat to Hindutva.. https://t.co/lC3fcMHusE
— Swara Bhasker (@ReallySwara) November 28, 2021
Several police complaints were filed against Mr Das after he released the video clip, and a BJP minister banned him from performing in Madhya Pradesh.