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Stand-Up Comics And Their Freedom To Speech: Munawar Faruqui And Vir Das

Democracy means a government by the people and for the people. A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly.[i] Can India still be termed a democratic state? Do the people still have the right to live and work as per their free will? The recent incidents pose a big question on that.

Munawar Iqbal Faruqui, a 29 years old Indian stand-up comedian, writer and rapper who is known for his satirical comedy is being harassed.[ii] His recent instagram post dated 28.11.2021 indicated that he might give up on comedy after his last show that was supposed to be held in Bangalore got canceled under the threats of vandalism.

The money collected from this show was supposed to go to charity. The artist also mentioned about 12 of his shows that were called off in the past two months. Last month too, he had his shows canceled in Mumbai, Raipur and Goa because of the threats from Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.

The comedian had no option but to cancel the show when nearly 500 people threatened to set themselves on fire. He stated that the safety of his audience matters more to him. His Bangalore show had a censor certificate that clearly stated that the show had no defaming content.
  • Then why was he subject to such threats?
  • Why can't a comedian crack jokes without the fear of being put behind bars or death threats?
Another such incident took place with comedian Vir Das who was brutally slammed and criticized for a 7-minute monologue 'I Come From Two Indias' that he posted from his performance at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Youtube.[iii] The video gained a lot of popularity and divided the people into two groups, few who praised him and others who criticized him.

Madhya Pradesh Home Minister asked Mr. Das to apologize for this behavior or else he would not be allowed to perform in the state. Vir Das released an official statement on his Twitter handle explaining to people why he added the last monologue to his show and asked them to understand.

This brings us to think if free speech is crippled under the concept of defamation or not, especially for stand-up comics. Their satire often lands them in big trouble.

Several other comics including Kunal Kamra, Kapil Sharma, Tanmay Bhat, Kiku Sharda, Agrima Joshua have received threats in the past questioning their rights to freedom of speech. Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India states that:
All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.

It secures to all the citizens, liberty of thought and expression.[iv] However, comedians have often been subjected to harassment and are fallen victims to the Defamation clause. It is the oral or written communication of a false statement about another that unjustly harms their reputation and usually constitutes a tort or crime.[v] One should understand that what comics do is entertain people and not spread news. You probably laugh at a statement made by them because you know that it is fictional.

Problems usually arise when satires are taken as an offense by the ruling party or the group of people the joke targeted. They start to hold personal grudges which cause problems. In Faruqui's case, the right-winged took the offense so far that they are not letting the comedian perform. We can only imagine the kind of mental trauma that the comedian might be in. His living is at stake for a joke that he never made, was sent to jail for and still publically apologized for it.

And as for Mr. Das, he had to apologize for expressing his thoughts on an international platform. He had to do that because a group of powerful people got offended by his words. If this is the free speech clause that the constitution talks about, there is something definitely wrong with it. Rather full proof conditions need to be laid down to the clause so that the harassment of the comics stops. Every word spoken by the comedians about society should not be considered slander.

End-Notes:
  1. (2021), https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/democracy (last visited Nov 28, 2021).
  2. Munawar Faruqui - Wikipedia, En.wikipedia.org (2021), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munawar_Faruqui (last visited Nov 28, 2021).
  3. English News, I Come From Two Indias controversy: Vir Das issues clarification after severe backlash Indiatvnews.com (2021), https://www.indiatvnews.com/entertainment/celebrities/i-come-from-two-indias-controversy-vir-das-issues-clarification-severe-backlash-latest-entertainment-news-745363 (last visited Nov 28, 2021).
  4. Patnalawcollege.ac.in (2021), http://www.patnalawcollege.ac.in/notice/88274-e_content-_art_19.pdf (last visited Nov 28, 2021).
  5. Defamation: Wikipedia, En.wikipedia.org (2021), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation (last visited Nov 28, 2021).
Written By: Khushi Yadav, 1st Year Law Student

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