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Over 100 Artists Call For Dropping Charges Against Munawar Faruqui, Five Others

By DA Staff 13 February 2021

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Artists from across the country—and beyond—have come together in defense of comedian Munawar Faruqui and the five others accused of allegedly hurting religious sentiments during a comedy show in Indore on 1 January. In an open letter, 100 artists including writer Arundhati Roy, comedians Kunal Kamra and Prashasti Singh, actors Kunaal Roy Kapur, Kalki Koechlin, and Pooja Bhatt have demanded that all the charges against Faruqui and the other accused who were arrested on 1 and 2 January be dismissed immediately, reported The Quint.

Faruqui, placed in judicial custody on 2 January along with 5 others, was finally released on bail on 5 February, following an SC order. Of the others, Priyam Vyas has since also been released on bail, while Edwin Anthony and Prakhar Vyas got ad-interim bail from the Madhya Pradesh High Court yesterday. Sadaqat Khan and Nalin Yadav still remain in judicial custody.

The statement—led by Progressive India Collective, PEN America, Freemuse and Reclaiming India—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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