New Delhi: Comedian Munawar Faruqui was denied bail by a sessions court in Indore Tuesday. The court observed that Faruqui and the show’s organiser, Nalin Yadav, had been accused of making objectionable remarks on Hindu gods and goddesses and giving them bail would create a law and order situation.
Faruqui and five others were booked on 1 January based on a complaint by Eklavya Gaud, son of BJP MLA from Indore, Malini Gaud.
The application by the Tukoganj police station in Indore read: “During the show, inappropriate language had been used while referring to religion, society and culture. While comments were also made about the present Home Minister Amit Shah and Godhra carnage which might create social unrest.”
Faruqui’s is only the latest in a long list of legal cases against comedians over issues such as hurting religious sentiments, defamation and obscenity, among other charges, over the last few years. Here’s a look at some of the prominent cases.
Cases against comedians
Kunal Kamra: In December 2020, the Supreme Court issued a show cause notice to comedian Kunal Kamra on pleas seeking initiation of contempt of court proceedings against him. The apex court received many petitions against the comedian after he criticised the Supreme Court’s order granting bail to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami in a 2018 abetment to suicide case.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal highlighted some of Kamra’s tweets in his letter to the court to initiate contempt proceedings.
Among them were tweets in which Kamra said “honour has left the building (Supreme Court) long back” and “Supreme Court of the country is the most Supreme joke of the country”. He also posted a picture of the SC building painted saffron, with the flag of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the foreground.
The Supreme Court of this country is the the most Supreme joke of this country…
— Kunal Kamra (@kunalkamra88) November 11, 2020
Contempt of court it seems 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/QOJ7fE11Fy
— Kunal Kamra (@kunalkamra88) November 11, 2020
In its 18 December order, the top court had asked Kamra to file his reply within six weeks.
Agrima Joshua: In July 2020, comedian Agrima Joshua was at the receiving end of rape threats and abuses, and was threatened with legal action after a 2019 video of hers making jokes about the Maharashtra government’s Shivaji statue project in the Arabian Sea went viral on social media.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said he had instructed the state police to take legal action against the comedian. He tweeted, “I have instructed CP [Commissioner of Police] Mumbai and IG [Inspector General] Cyber to take legal action expeditiously.”
Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik also said he had written to Deshmukh demanding Joshua’s arrest.
Joshua tendered an apology on Twitter and clarified that the video in question had already been taken down.
Tanmay Bhat: In July 2017, comedian Tanmay Bhat was booked and an FIR was registered against him under Section 500 (defamation) of the IPC and 67 of the IT Act (punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) after he tweeted a meme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a dog filter on Snapchat. The case was taken up by the Cyber Cell of the Mumbai Police.
A year before that, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had filed an FIR against Bhat for a video he posted on multimedia messaging app Snapchat where he seemingly mocked singer Lata Mangeshkar and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. Bhat shared the video on his Facebook page titled ‘Sachin vs Lata Civil War’.
Mumbai Police’s Special Branch had placed a request with tech giants Google and YouTube urging them to delete the video.
Kapil Sharma: In September 2016, popular comedian Kapil Sharma tweeted that some Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials asked him to pay bribe to let him construct his office space in Mumbai. He sent out a tweet to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying, “Ye hain aapke acche din?”
Many said his tweet was politically motivated, and the matter escalated when the MNS threatened to “shut down” Sharma’s show unless he apologised.
The comedian was booked under various sections of the Environment Act by the Versova police in Mumbai for allegedly dumping debris near mangroves behind his bungalow. It was also alleged that Sharma undertook illegal construction near the mangroves.
Later, the Bombay High Court stayed the FIR against Sharma in the illegal construction case as the BMC decided to withdraw all litigation against him in the lower court.
Kiku Sharda: Earlier that year, in January 2016, comedian Kiku Sharda, a regular on TV show Comedy Nights with Kapil, was sent to 14 days’ judicial custody in Kaithal, Haryana, for mimicking now-convicted rapist Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim Singh. Sharda was granted bail a day later.
The action came after he was arrested from Mumbai by the Haryana Police and booked under Section 295-A (outraging religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious belief) of the Indian Penal Code.
After getting bail, he was on his way to Delhi when he was arrested again by the Haryana Police for a second case registered against him in Fatehabad. He was supposed to be produced in a Fatehabad court but was released when the police found “nothing against him” after he joined the investigation.
AIB: The comedy group, which used to be headed by Tanmay Bhat, Gursimran Khamba, Ashish Shakya and Rohan Joshi, got into trouble over their infamous ‘roast’ (insult comedy) in 2015 featuring actors Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor and director Karan Johar, among others. The collective was booked on obscenity charges.
The Mumbai Police registered an FIR at Tardeo police station against the group and other people who were present at the show, including Singh, Kapoor, Johar, and actors Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt, among others.
In November 2018, the Bombay High Court reportedly directed the city police to refrain from filing a charge sheet against the celebrities in the case.
In many cases over the years, several comedians and associated brands have said sorry after finding themselves in a spot of bother.
In July 2020, comedians Rohan Joshi, Sahil Shah, Azeem Banatwala, Aadar Malik and others posted videos apologising for hurting people’s sentiments after old videos of their comedy sketches resurfaced with the hashtag #HinduphobicComedyIndustry. The comedians were accused of mocking Hindu gods and goddesses.
Joshi, a former member of the comedy group AIB, even quit Twitter and said the matter had moved beyond the virtual world with his number and address leaked.
In May 2020, ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) registered a police complaint against comedian Surleen Kaur and Shemaroo Entertainment for an alleged derogatory comment on Hindu religion during a stand-up act. Kaur had reportedly linked ISKCON with pornography and also made a comment on Lord Ganesh.
Following the social media uproar, Shemaroo issued an unconditional apology to ISKCON and took down the video.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.