An Indian comedian faces a barrage of criticism and asks police to investigate a comedy monologue that speaks to the country’s contradictions on women’s safety, religion, Covid and politics.
The routine performed on a US tour by Vir Das, one of India’s most popular comedians, went viral in India this week after he spoke of “two Indies,” conflicting elements of his own country that, in their opinion, they had an absurd element. .
“I come from an India where we worship women during the day and gang rape them at night,” Das, who has had several Netflix specials, told an audience at the sold-out show in Washington DC last Saturday. He continued: “I come from an India where we pride ourselves on being vegetarians and yet we run over the farmers who grow our vegetables.” His routine ended with him talking about his pride in India and asking the audience to shout for their homeland.
After the video was uploaded to YouTube, it quickly went viral on social media. The polarized responses pointed, like Das, to a divided India, where free speech now regularly clashes with hard-line nationalist sentiments, and the space for political comedy is shrinking.
Aditya Jha, spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), filed a police complaint against Das for “insulting the country”.
“These disparaging statements against women and India are inflammatory. They were made in the United States and they defame the image of our country internationally. I want the police to carry out an investigation, ”Jha said. The police have not yet registered the case.
Mumbai BJP Secretary Vivekanand Gupta also contacted the Delhi police to request that a case be brought against Das for “hurting the feelings of the nationalists.” The BJP Prime Minister of Madhya Pradesh said Das was now banned from acting in the state.
The outrage was not contained by the BJP. A leader of the congressional opposition party, Abhishek Singhvi, wrote on Twitter that “smearing the nation as a whole in front of the world just doesn’t stop.”
Kangana Ranaut, a vehemently pro-government Bollywood actor known for rarely holding back, said that “such creative work targeting an entire race is soft terrorism … strict measures must be taken against such criminals.”
Others, however, celebrated the Das routine as an incisive and satirical version of India. Congressman Shashi Tharoor said Das was “defending” the citizens of India. Another opposition deputy, Mahua Moitra, thanked Das for denouncing the two Indies: “one laughing and the other denouncing the police.”
The protest prompted Das to issue a clarification on his monologue. “The video is a satire on the duality of two very separate Indians doing different things. Like any nation, it has light and dark, good and bad within it. None of this is a secret, ”he wrote in a statement posted online. He added: “I am very proud of my country and I carry that pride around the world.”
For many on the Indian comedy circuit, the backlash was yet another sign of how comedy faces the threat of repression, which is now spreading beyond the country’s borders. . While the industry initially emerged in India as a vehement platform against the system, comedians now spoke of their fears of even touching politics and religion into their routine in recent years.
“There is no room for political satire in this country anymore,” said Vishesh Arora, a comedy manager and booker who organizes tours of India. Comedians who have some political content are struggling these days, canceling two or three shows every month. Venues refuse to host certain comedians and comedians are even afraid to improvise on stage in case something they say goes viral and police cases are filed against them. “
In January, Munawar Faruqui, a Muslim comedian, was arrested and detained for almost a month for a joke that he did not even tell, after being accused of hurting religious sentiments and insulting Hindu gods. Despite Faruqui’s subsequent release, his programs have been repeatedly canceled following threats from right-wing groups, including a recent program in Goa where 500 people threatened to set themselves on fire if allowed to continue.
Arora said it was only in the last three or four years that she had begun to see comedy become a target.
“Vir knows India, so I don’t think this reaction will surprise him,” Arora added. “But he’s brave to go out and say it anyway.”
Das had been one of the few comedians to jump to Faruqui’s defense earlier this year. “The system not only tells comedians what to joke about, it also tells them what to laugh about,” Das wrote on Twitter. “The main target is not our pen, it is your throat.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism