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Munawar Faruqui: The Muslim Man Who Dared Take Central Stage

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The problem was never the joke. In fact, it never really is. It is not the joke itself – the content of it, the invocations, the delivery, the manoeuvring of historicity – touching religions and related deities that offend. It is the person offending. His marginality and the attempt to own it, his socio-economic privileges, his perceived ability to sway rationality. As we continue to live in BJP’s India the criteria list has become shorter. His existence is enough.

Munawar Faruqui is a comedian in jail. He has spent close to twenty days in jail for a joke he never cracked. On the insistence of a BJP MLA’s son – who also happens to be the chief of Hind Rakshak Sanghatan and had overheard allegedly jokes being cracked about Hindu deities and Amit Shah – Faruqui was arrested by the Indore police. There is no video or visual evidence of the crime committed. Audience testimonies have overwhelmingly shown that no derogatory joke was made. They say that Faruqui had only just taken centre stage when he was apprehended and even then, had apologised if anyone had been hurt for any possible thing he may have said or done.

Two bail requests have already been rejected by the competent court. UP Police is now seeking Faruqui’s custody. When asked about the fact that there had been zero credible evidence against the accused and yet he had been arrested, the Indore SP reportedly said, “It does not matter.”

It’s true. It does not matter, the joke. The goons in the Comedy Club that fateful day had arrived there not with the intention to laugh and hear jokes but to heckle. And to their blessed advantage, a Muslim man had just taken centre stage.

Because it is not as though comedians have completely abandoned their liberty to make jokes about religion.

Even in this hyper-religious, nationalistic, politically polarised climate, there are still the Kunal Kamras and Vir Das’ and Varun Grovers that are allowed – albeit pitiably – to exist. Their rightful liberties become an exercise of democracy, and the State’s suppression of those: a suppression of dissent.

But remember, these are attacks on dissent. Not on personhood. These men are questioned because, for the ‘protectors’ of the Hindu dignity, they are not perfect representatives of the faith. They are foul-mouthed, authority questioning, English speaking and so on. They are questioned because they seemingly lower the mantle of Brahmanical patriarchy that they are called to uphold. Theirs is the crime of inconformity; of rejecting the perfect identities they belong to.

It is “How dare you make these jokes?”

But Faruqui conforms. He is exactly what they perceive minorities – Muslim men in particular – to be. Offensive, immoral, anarchists, the ‘Other’. Miscreants in a land that does not belong to them; incompatible with the larger demographic, invaders of ‘pure’ culture.

Impediments to the eventual Hindu Rashtra. As a result, they need to be constantly subdued, reminded their place, disenfranchised; their voices are part of a herd almost always either misrepresented or dismissed.

It is “How dare you make these jokes?”

Representational image.

Yes, it might seem grim when the counter-argument is always that our Constitution itself does not allow you to ‘offend religious sentiments’ – which is surprisingly the only time these fundamentalist factions rely on Dr Ambedkar’s Constitution – but these criteria for offence are kept intentionally abstract, so as to delay the process of the actual indictment. Because surprise, surprise, morality is abstract. Interpretation of a joke is abstract. There are people who might be so enraged by a cartoon of a prophet that they justify murder. And then there are people whose faith stands unrattled by it.

And who the hell decides who deserves jail time for something like this?

So why not, for now, spare the discourse of why freedom of expression is necessary and why artists need independence for their art and so on. Yes, the conversation is important but we’re talking about something deeper here: identity.

Munawar Faruqui’s identity is the fault here.

His exercise of democracy, his taking up of the spotlight, his grabbing of the microphone and stage; the revolting and at the same time, owning of his marginalisation is the crime. It is the intersectionality of his inequalities that are the reason for his never-ending jail ordeal. And those who are at the top celebrate this.

So if you, in your privilege, still are apolitical. If you still believe ‘these things happen’. If you believe comedians must not make offensive jokes. This is for you. It is our identities that are politicised.

We are heckled for our thoughts, persecuted for our beliefs; our bodies are part of political trials and while that continues, our voices are unimaginably censored. This is not a fair society, let alone a democratic one.

Democracy is dying, and it is certain, the joke seems more real than ever.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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